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B.C. family ER visits dropped significantly during peak of COVID-19 first wave

Last Updated Nov 5, 2020 at 12:08 pm PST

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Summary

Visits to B.C. emergency rooms among families with children dropped during the peak of the first wave of COVID-19: UBC

Overall, the number of children arriving at ERs declined by nearly 67 per cent compared to the previous year

Bring children to the hospital if they need help, as waiting longer can lead to more serious problems: researcher

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Visits to B.C. emergency rooms among families with children dropped by two-thirds during the peak of the first wave of COVID-19, according to a new study from the University of B.C.

The findings of the study, led by Dr. Ran Goldman, Department of Pediatrics at UBC, suggest many families may have avoided visiting emergency rooms for minor illnesses from March 17 to April 30, during which public health emergency and stay-at-home orders were declared.

Overall, the number of children arriving at ERs declined by nearly 67 per cent compared to the previous year.

“In over 25 years of practice, I haven’t seen anything like this. So we were in unchartered territory, and the surprise also is in regards to the fact that children were a bit sicker when they did arrive and needed more admissions to the hospital,” Goldman said.

Reasons for the decline range from concerns over contracting the virus to a desire to avoid overburdening the healthcare system, he added.

For the study, the researchers analyzed records from 18 emergency departments in Metro Vancouver, which represents 60 per cent of the province’s population. Children up to the age of 16 were included.

The study found a 70 per cent drop in visits to B.C. emergency departments at general hospitals, and a 57 per cent reduction in visits to the emergency department at BC Children’s Hospital at the peak of the pandemic compared to the previous year.

Researchers also found, while overall admissions were down from the year before, the rate increased to seven per cent from four. That suggests the proportion of serious illness was higher compared to the previous year, according to the study.

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Visits with symptoms related to fever and gastrointestinal issues among children saw the biggest decline — more than 70 per cent — followed by orthopedic complaints, which dropped of 69 per cent, and respiratory symptoms, which fell 56 per cent.

Similar trends have been reported in Italy, England, and Spain, says the study.

Goldman suggested parents bring children to the hospital if they need help, as waiting longer can lead to more serious problems.

“It’s important for me that parents will know that the emergency department is always open, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year we are there for children, and we need to make sure that parents remember that,” he said.

He suggests physical distancing and the closure of schools reduced the spread of other viral illnesses, resulting in a decrease in emergency department visits.