Amid the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, emergency room visits for injuries other than COVID-19 has decreased significantly, raising concerns about potential long-term consequences of untreated problems.
In findings published this week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that emergency room visits decreased 42% during the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
Researchers used data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, which collects electronic health data in real time, to look at emergency room visits from January 2019 through May 2020 in hospitals across 47 states.
According to the findings, emergency room visits dropped from an average of 2.1 million per week from March 31 to April 27 last year, down to 1.2 million per week from March 29 to April 25, in 2020.
The proportion of infectious disease-related visits was four times higher during the early pandemic period.
In 2019, 12% of all ER visits were among children ages 10 and younger. This year children under 10 account for only 6% of all ER visits.
The data indicated diagnoses for lower respiratory disease, pneumonia, and difficulty breathing, as well as cardiac arrest and ventricular fibrillation increased. These are all conditions that are linked to, or byproducts of, coronavirus.
Conversely, the number of visits for conditions including nonspecific chest pain and acute myocardial infarction decreased, suggesting fewer people are receiving medical attention for heart attack and chest pain.
The researchers suggest many people may be putting off emergency visits for serious health conditions in an effort to avoid contracting COVID-19.
The CDC recommends people continue to use virtual doctor’s visits during the pandemic when appropriate, but visits to the ER for serious conditions, like a heart attack, should not be put off for fear of coronavirus.
For example, waiting too long to seek treatment after a person has a stroke can lead to increased brain damage and more brain tissue is lost. After a heart attack, waiting too long can lead to lost heart muscle. After suffering a serious event such as those, every minute counts and medical attention should be received as soon as possible.
“To minimize SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk and address public concerns about visiting the emergency department during the pandemic, CDC recommends continued use of virtual visits and triage help lines and adherence to CDC infection control guidance,” wrote CDC officials.