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It's safe to go to the ER during the pandemic – "just be smart about it," doctor says

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Anyone with a medical emergency should seek treatment, even though coronavirus cases remain high in parts of the country, emergency care physician Dr. Ron Elfenbein said on CBSN Monday. Emergency departments, in general, "do a very good job" of sanitizing and keeping the risk of exposure to a minimum, he said. 

"If you have something that you consider to be an emergency, definitely go seek care for it," said Elfenbein, who practices in Maryland. "The emergency rooms, by and large, are safe and secure."

Elfenbein advised people to "just be smart about it."

"Don't touch everything, wear your mask, wash your hands a lot and just kind of stay away from other people," he said.

In April, as the outbreak in the New York City area hit its peak, U.S. emergency room visits fell around 40%, according to the CDC. Another study by researchers at Yale University and the Mayo Clinic showed that in the first four months of 2020, visits to emergency departments in five states — Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina — fell between 42% and 64%.

That drop, Elfenbein said, may have led to "untold stories" of people who had chest pain but didn't seek care and possibly died or had a heart attack that will cause long-term problems "because they weren't treated appropriately."

Elfenbein noted that ER visits have been slowly rising back up from that low point, though it varies by location.

"It depends on where you are and on individual circumstances, but broadly across the country, we're definitely seeing those volumes go back up, but we're still probably 20 to 30% off of the historical norms for this time period," he said. 

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