Have COVID-19? Here’s When to Head to the ER
Jan 15, 2021
Monique Binkley Smith
Worried Black woman sitting on a couch, feeling symptoms.

So you or your loved one were diagnosed with COVID-19. You’re following doctor’s orders, isolating at home and taking precautions to protect other people from infection.

But how do you know when it’s time to seek emergency medical attention for COVID-19, or time to just burrow further under the covers?

Ronn Berrol, M.D., medical director of the Emergency Department at Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland says, “Emergency departments are very busy right now treating patients with severe illnesses and injuries—especially during this latest COVID-19 surge. So it’s understandable that some people might be reluctant to come in for care, but there are symptoms that are definitely red flags. If you or someone you’re caring for has COVID-19 and is showing any of these severe symptoms, don’t delay getting care. Please seek emergency medical care immediately.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) severe COVID-19 symptoms include:
Trouble breathing: if you’re breathing harder or having trouble getting air each time you exert yourself
Persistent pain or pressure in the chest: could indicate a severe lung condition or heart episode
New confusion: could indicate a serious condition like low oxygen, seizure or stroke
Inability to wake or stay awake: if someone loses consciousness due to any illness call 911
Bluish lips or face: often indicates oxygen levels are dangerously low, call 911

If you have any of these worrying symptoms, it’s a good idea to call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility. If you call 911, tell the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.

And remember, this isn’t a list of all possible symptoms. Call your medical provider or 911 for any other severe symptoms or symptoms concerning to you.

Dr. Berrol says hospitals and clinics across the Sutter network of care continue to take precautions to help keep patients and staff safe, including mandatory masking for all patients and visitors, isolating patients with COVID-19 symptoms and following best practices for cleaning and disinfecting in all spaces.

Wondering if you have COVID-19? Consult Sutter Health’s online COVID-19 interactive screener.


Note: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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