Trends in Emergency Department Visits and Hospital Admissions in the First Months of COVID-19 Pandemic

As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spread throughout the US in the early months of 2020, acute care delivery changed to accommodate an influx of patients with a highly contagious infection about which little was known.

Jeffery, et al. (2020) sought to examine trends in emergency department (ED) visits and visits that led to hospitalizations covering a four-month period leading up to and during the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

This retrospective, observational, cross-sectional study of 24 EDs in five large healthcare systems in Colorado (n = 4), Connecticut (n = 5), Massachusetts (n = 5), New York (n = 5), and North Carolina (n = 5) examined daily ED visit and hospital admission rates from January 1 to April 30, 2020, in relation to national and the 5 states’ COVID-19 case counts.

A total of 24 EDs were studied. The annual ED volume before the COVID-19 pandemic ranged from 13 000 to 115 000 visits per year; the decrease in ED visits ranged from 41.5% in Colorado to 63.5% in New York. The weeks with the most rapid rates of decrease in visits were in March 2020, which corresponded with national public health messaging about COVID-19. Hospital admission rates from the ED were stable until new COVID-19 case rates began to increase locally; the largest relative increase in admission rates was 149.0% in New York, followed by 51.7% in Massachusetts, 36.2% in Connecticut, 29.4% in Colorado, and 22.0% in North Carolina.

The researchers conclude that from January through April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in the U.S., temporal associations were observed with a decrease in ED visits and an increase in hospital admission rates in five healthcare systems in five states. These findings suggest that practitioners and public health officials should emphasize the importance of visiting the ED during the COVID-19 pandemic for serious symptoms, illnesses, and injuries that cannot be managed in other settings.

Reference: Jeffery MM, et al. Trends in Emergency Department Visits and Hospital Admissions in Health Care Systems in 5 States in the First Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Intern Med. Published online August 3, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.3288

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