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Emergency Room Risk



Many emergency departments like ours here in Pittsburgh have added additional staff because we are fielding a multitude of phone calls asking the question, should I come in to be checked? And the answer is absolutely not, for a number of reasons.

Number one, if you think you’re infected with COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus), most emergency departments are not readily capable of testing all suspected patients. We will test patients that are going to be admitted to the hospital and those who meet certain world health organization or CDC or local health department guideline recommendations for testing. In other words, if you come to the emergency department expecting to be tested just because you’re concerned, you’re likely going to be turned away and referred to a local testing facility or site.

The second reason is: the average length of stay in an emergency department in the United States borders on four or five hours, during which time you are in close contact with a multitude of people with a multitude of other medical conditions, some of which may in fact be infected with COVID-19. So while you’re waiting to be seen, you’re in a waiting room filled with people, and while you’re in the emergency department, even though the emergency department staff will do its due diligence to keep you as safe and quarantined as possible, you are still surrounded by pathogens and things that can make you sick. If you feel you need to be tested for COVID-19, contact your primary care physician. Your primary care physician, using the guidance of your local health department, will give you instructions about what to do next.

Now, if you feel that your medical condition is life threatening, whether it’d be something like chest pain or a suspected stroke, or you think you have COVID-19 and are in a higher risk group, or you’re feeling shortness of breath, discomfort in your chest or altered mental status, then you need to come to the emergency department. But you should still expect that you will be subject to rigorous screening before you are seen in the clinical area.

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