One of the most common concerns that people have as a result of COVID-19 is whether or not it is still considered safe to visit the ER for other maladies unrelated to the virus.
Prior to COVID-19 being declared a public health emergency by our officials, British Columbia saw as many as 6,559 visits to ERs across the province in just one day. However, just one month later, on April 6th, that number dropped to approximately 2,995 ER visits. While this ultimately shows that people are doing what they should by staying home – and that the system, as a whole, also has more hospital bed availability in the event of a worst-case scenario where we see an increase in COVID-19 cases and those needing emergency in-hospital treatment, such as in the ICU, these lower than usual numbers in the amount of hospital visits that British Columbians are making may also be an indicator that people could be choosing to ignore their health and the fact that they may need urgent medical attention due to these very valid fears that they have.
While COVID-19 is certainly a highly contagious virus, and while many non-essential services (i.e. restaurants and shopping malls, as well as gyms, community centres, beaches and parks) were once closed to the general public due to the inability for proper physical distancing (thus making it more likely for the virus to spread), many places of business and service (including things like banks, medical clinics pharmacies and emergency rooms) have always remained open to the general public – because, despite COVID-19, these are still services that people require on a daily basis. While medical clinics do remain open, there may be certain limitations in place – for example, clinic hours may be reduced. Many physicians are also turning to telehealth (telephone) and/or video conferencing for appointments with patients – because despite COVID-19, there are still many individuals who rely on continued care from their physicians. The same goes for hospital visits, too. If you notice any strange symptoms that you don’t normally experience (severe chest pain, for example), then this could be a medical emergency and is not something you should ignore. Instances such as this is when a visit to your nearest ER is never unwarranted.
Yes, the idea of stepping into a medical setting, such as a hospital where you know there are likely patients being treated with COVID-19 is a scary thought, and while those are very valid fears to have, it’s also important to note that there are specific protocols in place to ensure the safety of both patients and ER staff. For example, hospitals now have COVID-19 specific wards. This means that any patients exhibiting telltale symptoms of this virus are not going to be placed with patients at the ER for other medical issues. There are also things like hand sanitizer and masks for patients who may be at higher risk of developing COVID-19 – for example, if you have any of the underlying health conditions associated with being a risk factor – i.e. respiratory conditions, heart conditions, or if you are immunocompromised. (A complete list of risk factors can be found by visiting the CDC website.)
If you feel you need to see your doctor or visit the ER, then you should. Even if you’re unsure as to whether or not what you’re experiencing is a requirement of medical care or an “emergency” or not, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, as it could ultimately be a matter of life or death. The medical system is there for those who need it.