Across the nation, people are avoiding going to the emergency room, even for heart attacks, strokes, and surgical emergencies. This is leading to an increase in preventable death and lifelong disability. Here’s what you need to know about going to the ER during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is It Too Risky to Visit the ER During COVID-19?
Paul Goen, MD, FACEP, the emergency department medical director at St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital, explains why timely care is so important.
“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.”
He continues, “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 Is the Risk of Catching COVID-19 While Seeking Emergency Room Services?
“There are not any studies out there to show us how likely it is that you will contract COVID-19 by visiting an emergency department. That being said, I can assure you that we take way more precautions in our emergency department than just about anywhere else you may visit. Visiting one of our departments is certainly safer than simply going to the grocery store. This is due to all of the precautions that we take with every patient,” Dr. Goen explains.
Our ERs are following advanced protocol to keep patients safe.
“We have instituted numerous safety measures in our emergency departments 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 emergency department wear masks, eye protection, and gloves. If there is high suspicion for COVID-19, we also wear full gowns. Additionally, our staff members are constantly observing one another to ensure that we are using our PPE appropriately and that we are sanitizing appropriately.”
But our efforts don’t stop there.
“All of our patients are screened for signs, symptoms, and fever, as well. All patients, regardless of the reason why they are in the emergency department, 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,” says Dr. Goen.
Experiencing a Medical Emergency and Need to Visit the ER? Here’s What to Do
- Call 911 or have someone drive you to the ER.
In life-threatening situations, we recommend calling 911 so dispatch can provide you with urgent instructions and EMS can come quickly to your aid. Alert dispatch personnel of your symptoms and whether you have been tested for, diagnosed with, or potentially exposed to COVID-19. You may request the ambulance take you to a St. Joseph Health emergency room. If someone is driving you, call the ER staff to let them know you’re on your way. Remember to never get behind the wheel to drive yourself to the emergency room.
- Put on a mask if you’re able to.
If you have an accessible face covering and aren’t experiencing breathing difficulties, put on the mask before coming into contact with someone, whether it be EMS personnel or emergency room staff. If you do not have a mask, you will be given one to wear in the ambulance or at the ER.
- Prepare for COVID-19 symptom screening.
Upon arrival, a team member will ask you about your symptoms and check your temperature. You will then be asked to proceed to one of two designated areas: one for patients who display symptoms of COVID-19 and one for those who do not. This way, we can prevent patients without symptoms from crossing paths with those who do.