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Is it safe to go to the emergency room during COVID-19? Yes, it’s still safe.

Dr. Stephen Miller explains the steps we take to keep our ER clean and safe.

Emergency room building Photo: Getty Images

Updated January 5, 2022

As hospitals across Virginia and the United States continue to care for patients with COVID-19, you may feel uncomfortable visiting the hospital for other conditions. If you experience a medical emergency, don’t be afraid to come to the hospital for immediate attention. Delaying care for a potential medical emergency, such as heart attack or stroke, can put you at great risk.

Our emergency rooms are safe. What isn’t safe is delaying treatment.   

Dr. Stephen Miller, Professor of Emergency Medicine at VCU, talked to us about when to seek emergency care and how VCU Health is preventing the spread of the coronavirus to keep patients, team members and the community safe.

When should you definitely visit the emergency room?

Always come in for symptoms of heart attack or stroke. Symptoms include weakness on one side of your body, confusion, the inability to speak or chest pain.

With stroke and heart attack, the earlier you come in, the better the outcome. We’re set up to get you in quickly to see the specialists you need. Do not delay emergency care.


Additional reasons to visit the emergency room include uncontrollable bleeding and concern for broken bones. If you’re a cancer patient undergoing chemo and you experience symptoms your doctor has warned you about, like fever, call your doctor. You may need to come to the emergency room.

Do NOT go to a hospital emergency room for a COVID test. The emergency room is for true medical emergencies, such as heart attack or stroke.

What are some symptoms that may alarm people but may not signal an ER visit? 

If you have a fever and are generally not feeling well, but you can otherwise eat and drink, try treating yourself at home with over-the-counter medicine. Rest and drink plenty of fluids. You should also get a COVID test, but NOT at the ER.  

Vomiting and nausea can also be alarming, but if you’re still able to hold down some liquids and are generally comfortable at home, you may not need to visit the emergency room.

Continue to keep an eye out for flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. If they aren’t causing distress and you can eat and drink okay, you can treat yourself at home. Again, get a COVID test, as these are symptoms of COVID-19. But do NOT come to the ER for your COVID test.

If you aren’t sure if you should come to the emergency room, call your doctor’s office or schedule a virtual visit using the VCU Health MyChart app

If it’s a clear emergency, call 911.

What are some ways VCU Health is keeping ER patients safe during COVID-19?

We have taken steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and keep our patients, team members and community safe:

We are not only keeping COVID-19 patients safe, but any patient who seeks care at VCU Medical Center.

How should you prepare for an emergency room visit?

If your symptoms are urgent, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.

In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect our patients, families and team members, keep the following in mind when preparing for your emergency room visit:

  • The number of people allowed with you in the ER is limited. Please see our visitation policy. 
  • Wear a face mask or face covering that covers your nose and mouth. A mask will be provided if you don’t have one.

What is one thing you want patients to remember about seeking emergency care during COVID-19?

It is unsafe to delay emergency care. From cancer care to delivery, VCU Health is here for you, whether it’s for COVID-19 or something else.


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