Hospital emergency departments saw a 25 percent decline in patient visits this past December and January during the pandemic, compared with those months a year before, according to new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The data, gathered from emergency departments nationwide, show that after a national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, emergency room visits declined by 42 percent that spring – including a 72 percent drop for children 10 and under. But the numbers rebounded somewhat by August, to a 15 percent overall decline, before dropping again by early 2021. (Changes since January have not been released by the CDC.)
Compared with pre-pandemic numbers, the CDC reported that fewer people were visiting the ER for gastrointestinal and upper respiratory problems. Also, more ER visits were related to exposure to infectious diseases, and a higher proportion of patients, both adults and children, were seeking care for behavioral and mental health concerns.
On average before the pandemic, 130 million people sought treatment each year at an ER, according to the CDC. Experts believe the changes, including the decline in the overall visits and the type of care sought, are likely related to fears of getting the coronavirus, and possibly as well to the greater availability of telemedicine consultations.