Emergency department visits declined 42 percent in early days of pandemic: CDC

Emergency department visits declined 42 percent in early days of pandemic: CDC
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Emergency department visits declined 42 percent during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, indicating that some people are skipping out on needed care, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While emergency department visits for infectious diseases and respiratory illness increased during the pandemic, visits for heart attacks, chest and stomach pain and high blood pressure decreased between March 29 and April 25, compared to a similar period last year.

This suggests “some persons could be delaying care for conditions that might result in additional mortality if left untreated,” the authors of the CDC report wrote.

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Decreases were most noticeable among children and females in the northeast part of the country, which was hit particularly hard by COVID-19.

“The striking decline in ED 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 authors wrote. 

Experts have previously suspected that people may be avoiding emergency departments, even when they need care, because of fears of contracting the coronavirus. The American College of Cardiology sounded the alarm last month that hospitals are reporting a drop in the number of heart attacks and strokes nationally, although it’s unlikely people are having less of them.

The authors of the CDC report wrote that health systems should “reinforce the importance of immediately seeking care for serious conditions for which ED visits cannot be avoided” like heart attacks.

Emergency departments also saw declines in visits related to sprains and strains, ear infections, and superficial injuries.

But patients can likely seek care for these less serious issues at urgent care or their primary care doctors, the authors noted.

The CDC report also noted that people who use emergency departments as their primary source of care may be disproportionately affected. These people typically don’t have health insurance.