What to Do If You Have an Emergency During the Pandemic

Key Takeaways

  • The coronavirus pandemic is causing many people to reconsider how and when they receive routine and emergency health care.
  • You may want to avoid in-person care for minor medical issues, but do not delay care for true emergencies or major medical issues.
  • For non-urgent treatment, contact your medical provider to evaluate your options, such as telemedicine services.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way the healthcare system operates in the United States. Our hospitals and medical facilities are largely focused on providing appropriate care for those sick with the coronavirus and doing their best to keep beds open should cases increase. Meanwhile, people without the virus are being advised to avoid emergency rooms if they can, to avoid getting sick from the disease.

But what happens if your child breaks a bone, gets stung by a bee, or is having an asthma attack? Is it still safe to seek emergency medical care for non-COVID-19 issues? The key is knowing what level of care your child needs—whether it's from the emergency room, urgent care, or a call to the pediatrician—and then responding appropriately. Here are some general guidelines.

Minor Medical Issues

For the most part, it's probably best to avoid urgent care and doctor's offices if you can. Not only are these places overwhelmed, but there's a higher chance of being exposed to the coronavirus than there is at home. Plus, your wait time may be astronomical if your situation is not life-threatening.

Many times, minor incidents like a bee sting or an abrasion can be handled at home with basic first aid. The key is to contact your child's pediatrician and ask for assistance in treating the illness or injury.

Typically, a nurse can answer your questions or schedule a telehealth visit with the doctor if needed. From there, your child can be prescribed medications and offered treatment options without ever entering an office or an urgent care facility. It not only saves you time, but it also eliminates your risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Depending on where you live, your doctor may or may not be seeing patients for minor health concerns. So, it's always best to call first. Call your pediatrician's office before going to urgent care for:

  • Allergies and sinus infections
  • Anxiety, depression, or mental health complaints
  • Cough and cold symptoms
  • Insect bites and rashes (unless having an allergic reaction)
  • Management for pre-existing conditions
  • Minor cuts and abrasions
  • Minor eye infections and earaches
  • Minor sprains, strains, and aches
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Urinary tract infections

Understanding Telehealth Services

When medical issues aren't considered an emergency, many healthcare providers are now using telehealth visits to diagnose minor illnesses and medical conditions. Ask your child's pediatrician if they are offering this type of service.

If not, you also can use a local telemedicine provider if your child's doctor doesn't offer this service. These virtual providers—all of which are licensed to treat patients—can provide medical advice and diagnose certain conditions. They can also dispense certain drugs without having to come in contact with you or your child. Just be sure that you select a provider that is trained to treat children.

Additionally, some telehealth providers use special cameras and other devices like blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and pulse oximeters to help examine your child. Be sure the equipment they are using is designed for children. Using adult-size equipment could provide incorrect information.

Lastly, be sure that you share any information regarding your telehealth visit with your pediatrician, including medications that were prescribed. You want to be sure that there is a continuity of care for your child. Ideally, your pediatrician and your telehealth provider will work together.

Major Medical Issues

Of course, there may situations that require emergency medical care and you should never delay reaching out for help. If you or your child are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, it's important that you call 9-1-1 right away. Some examples of these types of emergencies include:

  • Severe allergic reactions that involve anaphylaxis
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking
  • Accidental overdoses or poisonings
  • Passing out or fainting spells
  • Dizziness or seizures
  • Severe burns
  • Broken or dislocated bones with clear deformities
  • Head injuries especially with the loss of consciousness or confusion
  • Neck or spinal injuries
  • Deep wounds
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Pregnancy-related complications
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Signs of a stroke such as sudden weakness on one side of the body

Call Ahead

There also are times when you should still visit an emergency room, but you may not need to call 9-1-1 as a means of getting there. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may want to call first to be sure the hospital you are headed to can treat you.

What's more, some hospital emergency rooms have closed their waiting rooms and require patients to call first for special instructions. Some examples of conditions that need to addressed by emergency room personnel include:

  • Burns
  • Coughing up blood
  • Cuts or lacerations that may require stitches
  • Foreign objects in the skin
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Suspected broken bones
  • Suspected concussions
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Don't Hesitate to Take Necessary Action

While it's important to be cautious about getting or spreading the coronavirus, a number of doctors are worried that people who desperately need emergency medical care are delaying treatment out of fear.

Doctors have discovered that even though people are experiencing warning signs of life-threatening conditions, they are refusing to get help due to fears over the coronavirus.

In fact, a letter from physicians in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality Outcomes reported that people were delaying treatment in the wake of the coronavirus, despite having symptoms of a heart attack.

Remember, every minute that you delay, you are increasing the chances that you or your child will experience a worse outcome. Rest assured that the healthcare professionals treating you will be doing everything they can to keep you from getting exposed. You don't want to put your child's health at risk because you're afraid of being exposed to the coronavirus.

How to Be Prepared

Because these are uncertain times right now, it's important that you do your best to be prepared for a variety of scenarios so that you can respond appropriately. Here are some things you can do now to prepare for any medical issues that may crop up.

Gather Information

It's a good idea to have the numbers for your child's pediatrician, allergist, eye doctor, dentist, and other medical or mental health professionals all in one location. Also, keep a list of medications nearby as well as the name and number of your local pharmacy.

You may even want to have a credit card or HSA card on hand in case they ask for your co-pay upfront. Having all this information in one spot saves you time when you're on the phone with your doctor. You won't have to search for any important information.

Assemble a First Aid Kit

Because it's challenging to run out when you need something, it's a good idea to have a first aid kit all ready to go in your home.

Aside from having a month's supply of any prescription medications and a high-quality thermometer, you also might want to have a few bottles of Pedialyte on hand as well as some over-the-counter medications like Benadryl, children's Tylenol or ibuprofen, and cough syrup.

Here are some other items to include in your first aid kit:

  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antiseptic hand cleaner
  • Compression or ace bandages
  • Cortaid, Neosporin, and Aquaphor
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Insect bite swabs
  • Instant cold packs, tweezers
  • Latex gloves
  • Medical adhesive tape
  • Saline solution
  • Scissors
  • Several different sizes of adhesive bandages
  • Several different sizes of gauze

Have Masks on Hand

As the country begins to open back up and loosen restrictions, there's a good chance that your state may require you to wear masks when in public. Additionally, if you or your child are sick, you should be wearing a mask anyway. You can find instructions for making masks online, or you can purchase one if you prefer.

Some businesses are even giving away free masks to those who need them. The key is that you follow proper protocol for wearing masks and wash them after every use.

Try Not to Panic

Living through a pandemic is a stressful situation on its own, but when coupled with an injury or an illness of a family member or child, your stress level can escalate. Try not to panic when your child gets injured or sick. Doing so only makes the situation that much more difficult to navigate.

Instead, take a few deep breaths and try to stay calm. And, if it's a situation that requires immediate medical care, don't hesitate to call 9-1-1.

Tips for Staying Safe at the Doctor

If you or your child have a condition that requires you to go to a doctor's office, urgent care, or emergency room, rest assured that they are going to do everything they can to keep you from being exposed to the coronavirus. But there are some things you can do as well to stay safe. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Call ahead to let them know you are coming as well as to let them know when you have arrived. Depending on where you live, some facilities will require you to wait in the car before you go in. So be prepared for this possibility.
  • Know where you're going. In some states, there are hospitals designated for COVID-19 patients only and others that take general emergencies. Make sure you are going to a facility that will be able to treat you or your child.
  • Wear a face mask and have your child wear a face mask—unless they are younger than two years old or have a condition that makes wearing a mask dangerous. Never put a mask on a baby.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, or mouth. Also, avoid touching or adjusting your mask. Refrain from touching any common surfaces if possible.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer while you're there, especially after if you touch a doorknob or sign-in station. If at all possible, refrain from touching anything. But if you do, clean your hands and your child's hands.
  • Bring something to entertain your child, especially if they are younger. Doing so will keep them from touching things that they shouldn't. Additionally, any toys that used to exist in waiting areas have been removed. Plus, it's likely that you may have to wait in the car for a period of time—unless it's a life-threatening emergency.
  • Take disinfecting wipes with you to clean anything that you are required to touch. This includes doorknobs, pens, tablets, and so on. Yes, the medical staff are regularly cleaning and sanitizing, but sometimes it helps to be extra cautious.
  • Stay at least six feet away from everyone in the office, including the receptionist and other patients.
  • Determine how many people are permitted to be with your child. Hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctors' offices are all limiting visitors. Make sure you know beforehand if you are allowed to go with your child and how many people are permitted. Likely, the only people permitted will be the sick child and one parent. If you're a single parent with multiple children, you may need to leave your other children in the care of a family member or a friend.

What This Means For You

Living through a global health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful. But when you add in another health issue like a broken bone or a concussion, it can feel downright overwhelming. Rest assured that healthcare professionals are still taking care of sick patients and those with emergencies.

If you or your child have a medical issue that needs immediate attention, don't hesitate to contact your doctor. If it's a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 right away. You should never delay getting the help you or your family needs because of coronavirus fears. The healthcare workers attending to you or your child will do everything they can to protect you from exposure while also making sure that you are taken care of in your time of need.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Telehealth services for children.

  2. Tam CF, Cheung KS, Lam S, et al. Impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak on ST-segment-elevation myocardial infarction care in Hong Kong, ChinaCirc Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2020;13(4):e006631. doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.120.006631

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.