With the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 information coming out, most of us really just want to know when we should be concerned. Should I go to the emergency room, get tested, or just stay home? It’s important to understand your options.

Let’s first look at emergency room visits. Understanding what a true emergency is beforehand will make it easier to decide when faced with the decision to go to that route or not. Below is a list from the American Academy of Emergency Physicians of bona fide medical emergencies:

• Uncontrolled bleeding

• Sudden or severe pain

• Coughing or vomiting blood

• Broken bones

• Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision

• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea

• Difficulty speaking

• Unusual abdominal pain

• Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

• Changes in vision

• High fever or flu-like symptoms (a patient with severe flu may require hospitalization)

• Allergic reactions (some are severe and may be life-threatening)

• Animal bites (these can be significant in some cases)

• Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath

• Chest pain or upper abdominal pain that lasts at least two minutes

• Change in mental status such as confusion

The last three items directly relate to the emergency warning signs of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Below is a more specific, albeit not exhaustive, list for COVID-19:

• Trouble breathing

• Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

• New confusion or inability to arouse

• Bluish lips or face

If you develop these emergency warning signs, get medical attention immediately.

Next, many of us are wondering if we should get tested for the virus. The CDC does not recommend everyone get tested but there are some criteria available to help you decide whether or not to seek care. If you are showing symptoms and believe you’ve been exposed to a positive patient, call your doctor. Remember, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are the following (and can appear 2-14 days after exposure):

• Fever

• Cough

• Shortness of breath

Your doctor will advise you whether or not to get tested. However, decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments, and your health care provider will coordinate testing with those departments.

Lastly, rather than be concerned, be diligent. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed. Below are the best ways to avoid exposure:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

• If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with others who are sick.

• Put at least six feet of distance between yourself and others.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a face cover then around others.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing/coughing, throw away tissue, and immediately wash your hands.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

For more details on avoiding exposure, emergency warning signs, and other COVID-19 questions, be sure to check out the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov. It includes the latest and most robust amount information.

– The St. Mary's Emergency Department continues to serve our community in seeing all emergency patients, not just COVID-19. Our providers are highly trained in emergency medicine and onsite 24 hours a day, every day, and can be reached at 816-655-5450.