Tips to Live By

An Emergency Is Still an Emergency — Even During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aug. 25, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Given the current surge of COVID-19 cases in Houston, we're all staying home as much as possible right now. But, medical emergencies are still emergencies — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In previous surges, doctors noticed an alarming trend in which people avoided seeking emergency care, even for life-threatening emergencies such as heart attack and stroke.

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.

"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," says Traci Prenat, nurse manager at Houston Methodist Emergency Care Center in Pearland. "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 catching COVID-19, and rightfully so, but we're taking every precaution to keep you safe," says Prenat. "Isolating 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:

  • Isolating COVID-19 patients from other patients, allowing us to treat everyone safely
  • Requiring all patients, visitors and employees to wear a mask (if you forget your mask, we can provide one)
  • Screening patients before they walk in the door
  • Thoroughly disinfecting patient rooms, as well as surfaces in common areas and employee workspaces
  • Ensuring social distancing in waiting rooms
  • Increasing housekeeping hours
  • Screening all employees before they enter

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 headache 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, Prenat 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 a virtual video appointment with your doctor (or an in-person appointment, if necessary) 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 Find-a-Doctor and calling the provider's number or calling 713.790.3333 for help finding a doctor.

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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Categories: Tips to Live By