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Please don't skip the ER over fear of coronavirus

Emergency room visits are down across the Twin Cities and doctors fear it will have dire consequences.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The fear of coronavirus is leading to another problem--people not seeking medical treatment for other emergency issues, like heart attack or stroke. So, doctors have one important message for you.

"We very much want them to call 9-1-1 and come to the hospital immediately,” says Dr. Haitham Hussein with Regions Hospital.

You would think seeing a decrease in patients with heart attack or stroke would be a good thing, but Dr. Hussein says it's troubling.

“Time is of the essence. For example, in the case of stroke, for every minute treatment is delayed, about two million brain cells die, so the value of time cannot be stressed enough,” he says.

Fear of contracting coronavirus, doctors believe, is stopping people from getting treatment. The numbers at Regions Hospital alone are staggering. In January they saw 70 patients with stroke symptoms in the ER, in February it was down to 54, in March, just 25.  And when it comes to heart attack patients, Regions ER only saw five patients in the month of March.

“There are reports from China and other countries that people are hesitating to go to the emergency room, so we don't want this to happen to our community,” he says.

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“Emergency care visits are down across the Twin Cities, and I've seen numbers ranging from anywhere from 40 to 60%,” says Dr. Kristi Tressell with The Urgency Room.

They too are seeing people waiting too long to get treatment, which is turning into a bigger problem.

“One example that I saw was a skin infection, that was probably mild to begin with, but the patient had let it go for days, and days, and days, and because it wasn't treated promptly, the patient was required to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics, rather than being able to take antibiotics at home,” says Dr. Tressell.

The Urgency Room is only seeing patients with respiratory issues at its Woodbury location. The other two locations are considered “clean.” And Regions, like other hospitals, has separate areas for COVID possible patients to help bring more peace of mind. And if you take one thing away from this story, Let it be this:

“Having stroke or heart attack symptoms, that means your heart, or your brain, is suffering from a disease now. Worrying about getting the coronavirus infection, this is a concern for something that may or may not happen, and if it  happens, it may or may not be a serious medical condition, so do not sacrifice the care for the disease that your body is having now, for fear of something that may or may not happen and may or may not be severe,” says Dr. Hussein.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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