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Emergency room visits dropped by over 40% during peak of COVID-19 closures

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - A new study by the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine found that emergency room visits dropped between 42% and 64%.

That significant decline happened in late March. Dr. Molly Jeffery of Mayo Clinic led the research and tells News 19 that emergency departments are just beginning to see more patients but most are not at pre-COVID-19 levels yet.

Researchers looked at 24 emergency departments across five health care systems over a four month period from January to April. Hospitals varied from rural to urban, including areas with a high presence of COVID-19.

Dr. Jeffery believes this trend could reflect people avoiding medical attention for non-emergency conditions, an increase in telemedicine, and the most dangerously, failure to seek treatment for life-threatening conditions.

"Some people were afraid of getting COVID-19 if they went to hospital. It's understandable, and I think some people were probably being generous and saying I need to reserve health care for people who really need it right now and maybe I don't need it that much," said Dr. Jeffery.

Not only did the lack of patients hurt people, hospitals felt the effects financially. Many institutions had to furlough or lay off staff to continue operating.

"All of the hospitals back in March and April were cancelling any kind of elective procedures and those are things that help fund a hospital," said Dr. Jeffery. "I mean if you need to have an emergency department so people can seek care at any time of the day regardless of their insurance status then you have to have other things going on that are bringing in a lot of money."

Hospitals have made headway since the first round of closures, preparing patients for a safe and healthy visit. Cleaning practices have increased and staff are taking necessary precautions to keep people and staff safe.

"Since the pandemic started, infection control measures have been increased," says Dr. Jeffery. "Appropriate measures should continue in both the emergency department and other clinical settings to reassure staff and ensure patients feel safe to pursue appropriate care."

Dr. Jeffery recommends consulting with your health care provider if you need to have elective surgery or treatment done. You can also reach out directly to a hospital to find the best way for aid. For emergencies, health care providers recommend you come in right away.

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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