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Emergency Care and COVID-19

The health and safety of our patients, families and staff is our top priority. We understand that you may have concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic but know that the Department of Emergency Medicine is steadfast in our promise to provide the critical care you and your loved ones need during this difficult time. Learn more about our Safe Care Commitment.

“For those who might be afraid to visit the emergency department with COVID-19 still present in our community, I want to assure you that safety is our top priority. We have put many safety precautions in place to provide the safest possible environment during the pandemic. If you have a serious health problem, like signs of a heart attack or stroke, please seek out emergency care right away. We’re ready to care for you.”

— Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA, vice chair of clinical affairs, Department of Emergency Medicine

Your Safety at the Emergency Department

What new safety measures are in place?

The emergency department (ED) has implemented a number of measures and special precautions to keep our ED safe and fully functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

Maintaining the safest possible environment

Maintaining the safest possible environment

All patients and staff must follow our safety guidelines while inside the ED’s waiting areas and clinical spaces. We require all employees, patients and visitors to wear a mask while in the hospital. We ask that everyone clean their hands using soap and water, or our new hand sanitizer stations, before and after physical contact with surfaces and others. We also follow physical distancing guidelines when providing care in the ED.
COVID-19 screening

COVID-19 screening

All patients who are admitted to the hospital from the ED are tested for COVID-19. Any patients with respiratory symptoms or who have tested positive for COVID are cared for in accordance with our infection control guidelines. All visitors to the ED are also screened for symptoms. A visitor with symptoms is restricted from entering the ED to protect staff and other patients. Learn more about patient and visitor screening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Learn More about Patient and Visitor Screening
Efficient emergency care

Efficient emergency care

We have made visits to the ED as efficient as possible to limit the total number of patients in the ED at any one time. A patient with less severe illness or injury (like a swollen ankle) may receive care in a private area near the waiting room and be discharged without entering other parts of the clinical space. We have accelerated the care process for patients who need immediate care by ordering blood work or simple imaging before they enter the ED.
Ensuring physical distancing

Ensuring physical distancing

We limit the number of patients inside our waiting areas and clinical spaces to allow for safe physical distancing. Patients who must enter the ED are brought to an exam room as soon as a room becomes available. We also made the transfer of patients from the ED to an inpatient floor a more efficient process when an admission is necessary.
Minimizing physical contact

Minimizing physical contact

We installed plexiglass barriers in the ED’s waiting areas and clinical spaces to improve infection control. We also spaced patient seats far apart in common areas to allow for physical distancing. We replaced some exam room curtains with semi-permanent walls to provide more physical barriers between patients and staff. To minimize physical contact between patients and staff, our exam rooms also offer video conferencing technology that allows patients and staff to use video conversations in addition to face-to-face interactions.
Frequent deep surface cleaning

Frequent deep surface cleaning

The environmental services team keeps the ED clean and sanitary by performing rigorous, around-the-clock cleaning of waiting areas, clinical spaces and high-touch surfaces, including medical equipment. We also reduced the time it takes to start a room cleaning after use, ensuring that exam rooms are cleaned as soon as patients leave.

FAQs: COVID-19 and Emergency Care

The emergency department has put many safety measures into place to provide the safest possible environment for patient care.

Why should I visit the hospital if I have an emergency?

If you have a medical emergency, it’s important to visit the nearest emergency department (ED) as soon as possible. A medical issue that requires immediate care may worsen without attention and proper treatment from an emergency care team. Seeking out care when every minute counts has never been more important.

“We have seen some patients with chest pain, or a worrisome headache, choose to delay their emergency care during the pandemic,” says Janet Gorman, associate chief nursing officer of the ED. “These delays can lead to a heart attack, stroke or even death. If you’re experiencing an emergency, please visit us for emergency care.”

What medical conditions require emergency care?

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs or symptoms, it’s important to seek emergency care right away:

  • Any sudden or severe pain, including sudden or severe headache
  • Change in mental status, confusion or unusual behavior or suicidal thoughts
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Heavy bleeding that can’t be controlled
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • New onset arm or leg weakness, facial droop or change in speech

Other conditions that require emergency care include:

  • A significant accident or injury, including a severe burn, cut, blow to the head or fall
  • Drug overdose
  • Poisoning
  • Severe allergic reaction

People with COVID-19 can experience a variety of symptoms. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you

Learn more about seeking care for medical emergencies during COVID-19.

What kinds of innovations has the emergency department adopted during the pandemic?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams across the Brigham have been developing innovative solutions to protect health care workers and patients. These solutions include:

  • Remote triage of COVID-19 patients: The biomedical research lab of Giovanni Traverso, MB, BChir, PhD collaborated with industry partners to build a dog-like robot that facilitates contactless evaluation of COVID-positive patients.
  • New face shield protects health workers: A team of Brigham clinicians designed and developed a new 3-D printed face shield to help ease the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the initial outbreak.

What new tools may help improve patient safety in the emergency department?

The ED will be launching new digital technologies to help further improve safety and access to emergency care. We are developing a digital tool that will display wait times to allow patients to know how long they would have to wait to get emergency care at any given time. We are also developing a tool that will allow patients with less severe illnesses or injuries (like a swollen ankle) to schedule their own visit to the ED during times when it’s typically less busy (morning).

Thank You To Our COVID-19 Supporters

We are grateful to our generous donors for helping us care for patients and families, protect our staff on the frontlines, and fuel innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

View Donor List