In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Emergency Department (ED) visits dropped 42% compared to the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Urgent care visits also dropped sharply.
Today, ED and urgent care visits are at or above previous high levels. This means some crowding and delays are natural.
One reason for the increase may be the spread of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) in the United States, with people seeking emergency care for suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Another potential factor is that people are once again seeking emergency care for other serious health needs at pre-pandemic levels.
“We have COVID-19 on top of broad needs for acute care,” says Donald M. Yealy, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer, UPMC.
Although the ED is always ready to help, you have other options for care as well. Those options include calling your primary care provider, visiting UPMC Urgent Care, or using UPMC AnywhereCare. These allow you to get care from experts in a way that may be easier for you.
Here’s a guide to help you match the best expert care you need to the best UPMC resources in a timely fashion.
When to Visit the Emergency Department
If you have a severe, life- or limb-threatening condition, call 911 or go to the nearest ED.
Potential reasons to visit the ED include:
- Severe breathing problems.
- Chest pain.
- Severe pain anywhere, especially in the abdomen.
- Serious trauma or injury.
- Suspected heart attack.
- Stroke symptoms (weakness or numbness in one body part, headache, speech problem, or dizziness that is new).
- Passing out or nearly passing out.
“If you have a symptom that is very severe, new, or dramatically worse, we need to see you in the Emergency Department quickly,” Dr. Yealy says. “Severe pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, or how you walk, talk, speak, or move — if that changes abruptly, that’s no time to wonder, ‘Where should I go?’ Call 911 or get right to your closest Emergency Department.”
Alternatives for Non-Emergency Care
If you have conditions that aren’t life-threatening, you have several other convenient and effective options for care, Dr. Yealy says:
- Call your primary care provider (PCP). You can schedule an in-office visit or video visit using a smartphone or tablet.
- Use UPMC AnywhereCare. If you don’t have a PCP, UPMC AnywhereCare provides video visits with doctors. There are options for both children and adults. All you need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
- Visit UPMC Urgent Care. We have locations throughout our communities to care for many urgent illnesses or injuries.
“You have opportunities to choose care that will fit your needs in a way that is optimal for you,” Dr. Yealy says. “It’s about getting you the best care possible in a manner that’s most efficient for you.”
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Should I Go to the Emergency Department for COVID-19 Symptoms?
If you or your child are experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, call your doctor or visit UPMC AnywhereCare. Your doctor will discuss the situation with you and arrange further care, including scheduling a COVID-19 test or advising you to go to the ED.
“If you’re just having more mild or less intense symptoms, that is not the time to go to an Emergency Department,” Dr. Yealy says.
If your symptoms are severe — if you can’t catch your breath or if you have chest pain or weakness that makes you feel like you will pass out — call 911 or go to your nearest ED.
“Many people with COVID-19 don’t ever get to that point, but some do, particularly the more mature you are or if you have underlying conditions,” Dr. Yealy says. “Those are the times in which the Emergency Department is exactly the right place to go with COVID-19.”
How Do I Get Tested for COVID-19?
If you think you have COVID-19 and think you need a test, call your doctor or visit UPMC AnywhereCare. Your doctor can discuss your case with you and refer you for testing if necessary.
UPMC has COVID-19 testing centers throughout our communities. You must have an appointment or doctor referral. Walk-in testing is not available.
UPMC uses the best available COVID-19 tests, and results are often available within two days.
Can I go to the Emergency Department for a COVID-19 test?
UPMC Emergency Departments can collect specimens and send them for testing, but we cannot test the specimens on-site. Because of that, going to the ED is not usually a faster way of getting tested for COVID-19.
“We want you to get tested early so that we can start other therapies but going to the Emergency Department doesn’t necessarily achieve that as quickly as you might think,” Dr. Yealy says. “The other options do it very well.”
Is It Safe to Go to the Emergency Department?
If you’re worried about long waits or COVID-19 exposure in the ED, Dr. Yealy says UPMC follows all possible measures to keep people safe:
- We require all people who enter our hospitals and facilities to wear facemasks throughout, even if they are fully vaccinated.
- We enforce physical distancing measures.
- We frequently sanitize our facilities.
- We screen visitors and patients for COVID-19 exposure and symptoms.
Our staff is trained in the latest protocols to keep facilities, patients, visitors, and employees safe from COVID-19.
“We are aware of all the strategies that help keep people safe,” Dr. Yealy says. “We watch that every day and have been doing that for nearly two years. We will keep you safe. Coming to the hospital is one of the safest things to do.”
Getting the Care You Need
Your doctor’s office can help you with the right care option, whether it’s an in-person or video visit. And UPMC AnywhereCare provides on-demand video appointments with UPMC providers. To learn more about our care options or to find a doctor, visit UPMC.com/Care.
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Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.