The onslaught of coronavirus is worse than 9/11, according to a New York City paramedic who spent months digging through the rubble of Ground Zero retrieving body parts after the 2001 World Trade Center terror attack.
FDNY paramedic Luis Lopez, 46, has revealed his fears about the spread of the deadly virus, which has now killed more than twice as many people in New York State than died in the Twin Towers on September 11.
‘As far as 9/11, we came to know that it was a terrorist attack and it was more localized,’ Lopez told DailyMail.com. ‘Coronavirus ‘is unprecedented. It’s spreading like wildfire.’
The 24-year FDNY EMS veteran also said shortages of personal protective supplies, hospital beds and other medical supplies which have hampered the fight against coronavirus weren’t an issue 2001.
Lopez added: ‘9/11 we had more than enough [supplies]. We had trailers, containers full of equipment. We had more hospitals, we had more beds, it was a different time.’
Lopez is assigned to FDNY/EMS Station 54 in Jamaica, Queens – one of the coronavirus hotspots in hard-hit New York City.
But back in 2001, he was an EMT who helped with logistics at the emergency command center in Brooklyn on 9/11, then spent several months searching through the World Trade Center rubble, looking for victims’ bodies.
FDNY first responders are seen assisting a woman at Queens’ Elmhurst Hospital Center on April 5. One FDNY paramedic said that the coronavirus pandemic has been worse than the Sept. 11 attacks
A person wearing protective gear is seen disinfecting an FDNY ambulance outside Queens’ Elmhurst Medical Center on April 9
During that time, nearly 20 years ago, Lopez sifted through the rubble at Ground Zero – also known as ‘The Pile’ – looking for survivors, then bodies or any other remains to bring to the morgue.
‘I was down at the pile until the end of January,’ he told the New York Post. During that period, he said, ‘We found body parts. We brought body parts to the medical examiner to get tagged. We found rings, earrings, clothes.’
‘It was terrible,’ he recalled.
Despite this, he says the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic makes it feel worse than the 9/11 tragedy.
The current NYC death count alone is more than 4,700, while the wider New York state has seen almost 8,000 deaths. On September 11, 2,977 people were killed.
‘It’s worse, in terms of body count – we’re definitely dealing with a lot more corpses,’ Lopez told DailyMail.com.
Lopez told the New York Post that responding to coronavirus callouts ‘is unsettling.’
‘It’s an odd feeling,’ he noted. ‘You think it’s the flu. People are just dropping. It’s like, “wow.”‘
Although the elderly and people with preexisting conditions – such as those with asthma or who are immunocompromised – are at particularly high-risk for coronavirus, it can have a devastating effect on people of all ages.
Seeing young people die from coronavirus has been particularly troubling for Lopez.
‘They’re very healthy people. It’s scary,’ he told the newspaper.
An Emergency Medical Technician disinfects the stretcher after taking a Coronavirus victim to the emergency room in the South Bronx on April 8
A person is seen here, wearing special PPE clothing, after disinfecting FDNY ambulances outside Elmhurst Medical Center in Queens on April 9
Lopez ticked off the growing roster of symptoms – fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, body aches, chills, vomiting, diarrhea – and said they were ‘common things you see with a typical flu.’
With coronavirus, ‘You don’t know exactly what’s going on,’ he said, calling it ‘a silent killer.’
He told DailyMail.com, ‘People that we deal with are significantly sick or have passed or are just calling for advice.’
For the latter, ‘we basically offer just a chat. We give them the courage, the information that they need.’
Ultimately, ‘It’s not knowing what’s going on behind that door’ that makes coronavirus more challenging to deal with, Lopez said.
The possibility of being infected by a patient is something that medics and EMTs have always had to worry about, ‘day in and day out, even before coronavirus,’ Lopez said.
‘We deal with infectious disease, there are sicknesses in the world, but this is unprecedented and has brought things to a different level. It’s just scary times.’
Lopez said that ‘We have dealt with so many things before, our immune systems are probably stronger than most people, but that doesn’t mean that we’re safe, obviously.’
The paramedic, who spent months at Ground Zero after 9/11, said coronavirus callouts have been ‘unsettling’ because the symptoms are so unknown, it looks like the flu and then they die. A paramedic is seen disinfecting a gurney after dropping off a patient at the hospital on April 5
EMTs and other first responders have been working double shifts as they are being diagnosed with coronavirus or recovering. An EMT adjusts a sign outside the Elmhurt Hospital Center on April 7.
The paramedic spent months sifting through the rubble at Ground Zero. Workers are seen here on September 24, 2011
He said that aside from fastidiously cleaning their ambulances and equipment, as well as making sure they’re properly equipped with personal protection devices, EMS teams are trained to do a 10-second scene survey safety check before rushing into the situation.
Lopez and others in his line of work are now taking extra precautions when they return home from the field.
‘I have a daughter, she was born with a heart problem, so when I walk through the door, I have to make sure I’m safe for her,’ he said. ‘That’s a major concern for all of us.’
Lopez credits his wife with helping to keep the family safe.
‘From Day One, I came through the door and she’s like,’You’re taking off your clothes.’ So everything comes off, goes right into the washing machine, then I go right into the shower,’ he said.
‘I mentioned it to people at work and they’re following the same practice. It’s just things we have to do, this virus is so unknown, we don’t know how to control it.’
Lopez said that he and other paramedics have been working double shifts since the city’s coronavirus cases have skyrocketed, largely due to the fact that so many other EMTs and paramedics have been infected or are in recovery.
EMTs are among the frontline healthcare workers who have been hit hard by the current pandemic.
It was recently revealed that a 24-year-old New Jersey EMT died of coronavirus complications just seven days after his 33-year-old EMT co-worker died from the virus.
Thousands of EMTs, doctors and nurses have tested positive to COVID-19 in the US, while more than 100 have died worldwide since the outbreak
New York state is now the coronavirus epicenter of the world, with more than 159,900 cases and 7,000 deaths.
The United States has just over 436,000 cases and accounts for a third of the world’s total infections.