Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Emergency Department Encounters in a Major Metropolitan Area

Jeffrey R. Stowell, Michael B. Henry, Paul Pugsley, Jennifer Edwards, Heather Burton, Craig Norquist, Eric D. Katz, B. Witkind Koenig, Sandra Indermuhle, Vignesh Subbian, Hamid Ghaderi, Murtaza Akhter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The end of 2019 marked the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public avoidance of health care facilities, including the emergency department (ED), has been noted during prior pandemics. Objective: This study described pandemic-related changes in adult and pediatric ED presentations, acuity, and hospitalization rates during the pandemic in a major metropolitan area. Methods: The study was a cross-sectional analysis of ED visits occurring before and during the pandemic. Sites collected daily ED patient census; monthly ED patient acuity, as the Emergency Severity Index (ESI) score; and disposition. Prepandemic ED visits occurring from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019 were compared with ED visits occurring during the pandemic from January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021. The change in prepandemic and pandemic ED volume was found using 7-day moving average of proportions. Results: The study enrolled 83.8% of the total ED encounters. Pandemic adult and pediatric visit volume decreased to as low as 44.7% (95% CI 43.1–46.3%; p < 0.001) and 22.1% (95% CI 19.3–26.0%; p < 0.001), respectively, of prepandemic volumes. There was also a relative increase in adult and pediatric acuity (ESI level 1–3) and the admission percentage for adult (20.3% vs. 22.9%; p < 0.01) and pediatric (5.1% vs. 5.6%; p < 0.01) populations. Conclusions: Total adult and pediatric encounters were reduced significantly across a major metropolitan area. Patient acuity and hospitalization rates were relatively increased. The development of strategies for predicting ED avoidance will be important in future pandemics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e383-e390
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • COVID-19
  • emergency care
  • pandemics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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