As emergency rooms fill up across the country, two doctors give guidance on what to consider before going to an ER

Waiting in an emergency department (

Emergency rooms across the country are overrun, largely due to Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases, and people who go to ERs face long wait times. Two doctors at the University of Michigan, Marisa Louie and Brad Uren, offered tips for determining whether or not an ER trip is the best option.

The fundamental rule, Uren said, is this: “If you have a medical issue that you or a family member believes puts your life, limb or body function at risk, come to the emergency room.” For example, chest pain, facial droop, weakness in the arms or legs, or altered consciousness can be signs of a heart attack or stroke.

“These conditions are time-sensitive, meaning the more time that passes, the more brain or heart tissue that may be permanently damaged,” Uren said. “Don’t delay care if you believe you may be having a heart attack or a stroke. It is always safest to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number rather than driving yourself in such cases.”

How about children? “If they have difficulty breathing, that is a sign to come and get checked at the ER, whether you think it’s Covid-19 or another issue,” Louie said in a news release. “Not drinking or urinating may be a sign of dehydration, another reason to get seen.”

Despite concerns about coronavirus transmission in hospitals, Louie said that ERs are “definitely safe. . . . Even during heightened periods of Covid-19 before the vaccine, transmission of the coronavirus in healthcare settings was very low due to the health precautions taken by hospital staff. The emergency department is a safe place to be.”

Common precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing are great for preventing virus transmission, but Louie and Uren said vaccination is the most effective way to prevent hospitalization. “The vast majority of our patients sick with Covid are not vaccinated,” Uren said. That’s also true in Kentucky.

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