Is It Safe to Go to the ER During COVID-19?
Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 is constantly evolving, some information may not be up to date. Stay informed by following information from your local officials and by visiting the CDC website.
COVID-19 doesn’t put other medical emergencies on hold. We asked Dr. Paul Goen, the emergency room services medical director at CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital, to provide some insight into going to the ER during the pandemic.
Have you witnessed any changes in emergency room visits during the pandemic?
Dr. Goen: We have seen an increase in all types of ER visits. I believe that this is primarily due to the loosening of restrictions when it comes to individuals socially isolating themselves.
When we were at the height of social isolation, we definitely saw people coming in long after their emergent medical condition began. We were seeing patients that had a stroke or heart attack 2 or 3 days prior to showing up, and there was not a lot that we could do at that point. Now, we are seeing more people showing up at the onset of symptoms like they should.
How likely is it that a patient will contract COVID-19 during an ER visit?
Dr. Goen: There are not any studies out there to show us how likely it is that you will contract COVID-19 by visiting an emergency room. That being said, I can assure you that we take way more precautions in our emergency rooms than just about anywhere else you may visit. Visiting one of our ERs is certainly safer than simply going to the grocery store. This is due to all of the precautions that we take with every patient.
Why is it important to seek timely care during an emergency?
Dr. Goen: There are emergent situations where minutes, or even seconds, make a big difference in the clinical outcome. Specifically, some traumatic injuries, strokes, and heart attacks have to be addressed in a timely manner, or an individual could have long-term devastating effects.
Other symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, severe headache, and other signs, can be indicative of a time-sensitive emergency. The bottom line is you should not put off seeking care for fear of COVID-19.
What safety measures are in place at our ERs to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Dr. Goen: We have instituted numerous safety measures in our emergency rooms to ensure patient and staff safety. All of our staff members are screened daily for signs, symptoms, and fever. Once in the hospital, all of our staff members wear masks. All of our physicians and APPs seeing patients in the ER wear masks, eye protection, and gloves. If there is high suspicion for COVID-19, we also wear full gowns.
All of our patients are screened for signs, symptoms, and fever, as well. All patients, regardless of the reason why they are in the ER, are placed in masks too. If someone is suspected of having COVID-19, they are placed in a specific, isolated area. These patients are led to rooms via a specific route that limits any intermingling with the other patient population.
Additionally, our staff members are constantly observing one another to ensure that we are using our PPE appropriately and that we are sanitizing appropriately.
What precautions should patients take during non-COVID-19 emergencies?
Dr. Goen: Patients should take the same precautions that they should be taking every day now. They should be practicing social distancing and good personal hygiene. As far as precautions in the ER go, we will help them take care of that when they’re with us.
The main thing to remember is that if you feel you have a medical emergency, and you would have visited the emergency room for this issue prior to COVID-19, you should go to the emergency department. Do not hesitate, because in a true emergency, minutes and seconds can matter a great deal.
If you experience a life-threatening emergency, call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately. Locate your nearest St. Joseph Health emergency room so you know where to go.