An Emergency Is Still an Emergency – Even During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Scott Rivenes, M.D.,
Medical Director,
Emergency Department.

Right now, we’re all staying home as much as possible. But, emergencies are still emergencies – even during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

If you’re experiencing concerning symptoms that require immediate medical attention, don’t let your fear of catching COVID-19 keep you from heading to the emergency room. Hospitals are safe and ready to care for you.

“During a pandemic, it’s easy to let fear and anxiety take over to the point that you push the rest of your health to the side,” said Scott Rivenes, M.D., medical director of the Houston Methodist Emergency Department at Sugar Land. “Just as it’s important to take COVID-19 seriously, it’s also important to continue to take acute illnesses seriously.”

Here are three things to know about seeking emergency care during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Know that the Emergency Room is Safe

If you have anxiety or fear about going to an emergency room right now, you’re probably not alone. But whether it’s through the efforts of our ER doctors and nurses or our housekeeping staff, you can rest assured that Houston Methodist Emergency Departments and Emergency Care Centers are safe.

“You may be frightened of being exposed to COVID-19, but we’re taking every precaution to keep you safe,” said Rivenes. “Isolating contagious or suspected contagious patients and thoroughly disinfecting rooms, workspaces and surfaces is nothing new for us, but we’re being even more vigilant in these efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Houston Methodist Emergency Departments and Emergency Care Centers are also taking additional precautions to keep patients and staff safe, including:

  • Requiring all employees, patients and visitors wear a mask
  • Screening all employees, patients and visitors before they walk in the door
  • Thoroughly disinfecting patient rooms, as well as surfaces in common areas and employee workspaces
  • Isolating suspected COVID-19 patients in a separate area
  • Ensuring social distancing in waiting rooms and providing an in-car check-in process for certain services
  • Increasing housekeeping hours

Know What’s Considered an Emergency

Now’s not the time to venture out of your house unnecessarily, but leaving home becomes necessary during an emergency.

A medical emergency is a rapid onset of serious, debilitating or painful symptoms that have the potential to impact your life, limbs or bodily function. Symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Abdominal or stomach pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Bodily trauma, especially to the head or spine
  • Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher that persists
  • Headache accompanied by fever and confusion
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Stroke symptoms, including face drooping, arm weakness,
    difficulty talking, dizziness, blurred vision, intense head- ache and confusion
  • Severe burns

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek emergency care as soon as possible.

Some serious symptoms, such as chest pain and those associated with stroke, are time sensitive – and the risk of losing function or even your life increases the longer medical attention is delayed. In these events, consider calling 911 so you can receive immediate medical attention.

Know Which Symptoms Can Wait

When deciding if your symptoms warrant emergency care or are just really annoying, Rivenes recommends asking yourself the following two questions:

  • Did these symptoms appear suddenly?
  • Do these symptoms have the potential to threaten my life?

If your answer is “no” to these questions, you may want to consider scheduling an in-person appointment with your doctor or a virtual video appointment instead of visiting the emergency room. If you don’t have a doctor, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7, or you can find a primary care physician by visiting and calling the provider’s number, or calling 281.205.4514.

For instance, if your head is pounding out of nowhere and it won’t go away, consider heading to the emergency room. If your headaches are ongoing but you’ve been able to manage them with pain relievers for the last month, it’s probably okay to wait to talk to your doctor.

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