COVID-19 has taken many lives directly. But it has indirectly claimed other lives as well. One way it has done this is by instilling fear in people who urgently needed emergency care for things like strokes, heart attacks or other life-threatening events. These people wouldn’t call 911 or go to the emergency department because they were either afraid of contracting the virus, of burdening the healthcare system, or being turned away for care.

This recently caused a 42 percent drop in emergency department visits over the same period last year per the CDC. And according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, nearly a third of American adults say that they have delayed or avoided emergency medical during COVID.

While it’s important to stay home and follow physical distancing guidelines during COVID-19, if you experience a life-threatening situation it is critical to get help right away. Because emergencies can’t wait. Not when waiting can drastically worsen your condition and jeopardize your chance of recovery.

Time is Critical

When experiencing a stroke, the longer you wait, the more brain damage you may suffer, the more brain tissue you may lose. Time is critical. The same applies to heart attacks—time equals heart muscle. When mild heart attacks go unattended it increases the odds you may experience heart failure down the road. Worst case scenario is when a lack of action proves fatal. The American Heart Association recently reported an uptick in fatalities among people having heart attacks and strokes because they didn’t call 911. Not only is this tragic, it is avoidable.

The emergency department is simply the best place to go for anything resembling a potential health crisis, even during a pandemic. Emergency personnel are well trained for such situations and uphold safety protocols for your protection. Some health officials even say that during a pandemic the emergency department is safer than public places like grocery stores or gas stations—what with all the safety compliance, use of personal protective equipment, and stringent disinfecting practices going on in our hospitals.

So what should you do if you think a life—either yours or someone else’s—is in medical danger? The bottom line is the same as it has always been. When a medical emergency strikes call 911. Get to a hospital.

Heed the Signs

Warning signs associated with heart attack include chest pain, upper body pain, sweating, nausea, fatigue and trouble breathing. Strokes are often identified by using the acronym FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.

Common reasons people visit the ER:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Severe burns
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Electric shock or lightening strike
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings