- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2020

Emergency department visits dropped by 42% from late March through April, the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the number of infectious disease-related visits increased fourfold during the same time frame, said a new federal report published Wednesday.

There was an average of 1.2 million ER visits from March 29 to April 25 compared to 2.1 million visits per week from March 31 to April 27 of last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The largest decreases in visits were among children 14 years and younger, women and people in the Northeast region.

Visits for abdominal pain and other digestive issues, musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and other specified upper respiratory infections saw the biggest declines. There were also fewer visits for heart attacks (also called acute myocardial infarction).

“Health messages that reinforce the importance of immediately seeking care for symptoms of serious conditions, such as myocardial infarction, are needed,” the study said.

“The striking decline in ED (emergency department) visits nationwide, with the highest declines in regions where the pandemic was most severe in April 2020, suggests that the pandemic has altered the use of the ED by the public,” the report said.

“Persons who use the ED as a safety net because they lack access to primary care and telemedicine might be disproportionately affected if they avoid seeking care because of concerns about the infection risk in the ED,” the researchers wrote. “To minimize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, transmission risk and address public concerns about visiting the ED during the pandemic, CDC recommends continued use of virtual visits and triage help lines and adherence to CDC infection control guidance.”

The CDC used data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, a network that collects electronic health data in real-time, from hospitals in 47 states or about 73% of emergency department visits in the U.S. to study trends.

There were increases in ER visits for infectious disease exposure and screening, COVID-19, pneumonia not caused by tuberculosis, respiratory failure or insufficiency, other specified and unspecified lower respiratory disease, cardiac arrest and heart rhythm problems.

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