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Great Falls College MSU paramedic students were taking extra precautions on Wednesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Joel Henderson, EMS director, said the outbreak has forced his students to use more real-world precautions in even simulated exercises.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Joel Henderson’s lab for his paramedics class at Great Falls College MSU is taking special measures to fight away what he calls the “ugly bugs.”

While the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has done a lot of damage across Montana, the United States and the world, one positive side-effect has been the heightened state Henderson’s paramedic students are paying to personal protection.

The present situation better simulates the precautions his students will have to take when out in the field, he said. 

“We’ve always practiced good personal protection,” Henderson said. “In EMS, we have to be ready to come in contact with communicable diseases like the flu, tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis, but (the coronavirus outbreak) gives us a chance to practice in a real-world situation.”

Henderson has 11 students from all over Montana in the class, which meets face to face on campus each Wednesday for labs and online on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a virtual classroom setting.

This past Wednesday, the group held its first since the government put restrictions in place to slow the spread of the disease, and the instructors were extremely vigilant to keep students spread out around Great Falls College’s Simulated Hospital while also ensuring the students were wearing gloves and eye protection. 

“We are being extremely mindful to follow best practices,” said Russ Motschenbacher, director of Great Falls College’s Health Sciences Division. “Our faculty are medical professionals who are ensuring the labs are conducted in the safest environment possible.”

Henderson also told the paramedic students Wednesday they can continue with the classroom portion and take an incomplete in the class until they can finish the labs when things return to normal if they are apprehensive coming to class in the midst of the pandemic.

All the students stayed.

Henderson also knows all face-to-face instruction can be halted at any time and everyone will be forced to take incompletes.

Almost all of Great Falls College’s courses and labs have moved online, but there are some things that can’t be taught remotely. 

One of those things is intubating an infant mannequin, which is what the class was working on Wednesday. 

“Our faculty and staff have done an amazing job finding creative solutions to remote instruction,” said Dr. Susan Wolff, CEO/Dean of the school. “But there are some things that need to be hands-on.”

Just as the “ugly bugs” need to stay hands-off.