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Worried Well: Emergency rooms and urgent care clinics becoming overrun


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Emergency rooms and urgent care clinics throughout Utah are becoming overrun due to fear of the coronavirus outbreak.

Packed emergency rooms

Hospital officials say they’re being flooded with patients requesting tests and treatments for the COVID-19 infection.

According to Intermountain Healthcare, their entire system is slowing down as an average of 240 patients are coming in per day for the past few days.

Of those 240, about 20-percent are complaining of respiratory issues. Officials expect that percentage to be around 40 or 50-percent in the near future.

Doctor Adam G. Balls with Intermountain’s Emergency Department says most of the cases he’s seeing don’t require a trip to the ER.

“If you have an illness, if you’re feeling symptoms, we would recommend that you support yourself supportively,” he said.

A recommended first step is calling their telemedicine service “Connect Care.” If deemed serious enough, then a trip to see a doctor in-person may be warranted.

Balls says Connect Care will typically receive around 150 calls this time of year, but now it’s closer to 300 a day.

The exceptions

It should be noted that health professionals are not entirely asking the public to stay away from the emergency room. There are some specific cases in which it may be necessary to make that trip.

“If you feel like your symptoms are severe or you’re elderly, over the age of 60,” said Balls, “if you’re in an immunosuppressed state taking medications for other illnesses.”

In fact, coronavirus fear is forcing Intermountain to change protocol in their emergency rooms.

Patients are first assessed by a nurse and then given a mask if they are in a high risk travel category. They also would be “taken back to an isolation type area to limit exposure to other patients.”

At this time, they’re still considering overflow areas and alternative sites, such as tents and drive-through testing, but those decisions have not yet been made.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus 

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading: 

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.  
  • Don’t touch your face. 
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet) 
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.) 
  • Get a flu shot. 

Local resources

State of Utah:

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States