Most people suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, will experience mild symptoms that can likely be treated at home, with the support and care of loved ones. Yet others may experience more severe symptoms and will need medical assistance.
With hospitals and health care workers overwhelmed, the question becomes: When should you seek help and what symptoms should signal a trip to the emergency room? Here is some advice from the experts.
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Should I get tested for COVID-19?
NBC News asked every state health department about testing and what to do if you think you may have the coronavirus. Consult their state-by-state guide for instructions.
When should you go to the ER?
"If people notice shortness of breath or chest pain they should call ahead, then go to the ER for an evaluation," NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres told TODAY, via email. "Shortness of breath means feeling like you are winded, are breathing like you just walked up three flights of stairs or can’t talk in full sentences. If you notice any of these signs and they don’t go away quickly, you need to be evaluated."
When should you go to urgent care?
"People can always go to an urgent care first and get checked, but they might be sent home if OK or on to an ER if not," said Torres.
In this instance as well, it's important to call ahead before showing up at the urgent care. When you call, let them know you could be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. It may be worth scheduling a video chat with your doctor first if they offer telemedicine services.
The American College of Emergency Physicians stresses the following: "If you are experiencing a fever that responds to acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen and a cough, and you are young and otherwise healthy, treat yourself as you would for a bad cold or flu. If you have shortness of breath that is new for you, call your doctor."
When should you call 911?
New York City, the current epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., experienced a high volume of 911 calls this week. This led the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to release a public service announcement video on YouTube:
"New Yorkers, only call 911 during a real emergency," an EMT stresses in the video. "Allow first responders to assist those most in need ... If you have more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and very high fever, go to an emergency department. Only call 911 if you need help right away."
The FDNY stressed to NBC News to ONLY call 911 if someone has “a heart condition, they’re choking, they cannot breathe, or they’re having true difficulties breathing."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that if a patient has a true medical emergency and 911 is necessary, "notify the dispatch personnel that the patient has, or is being evaluated for COVID-19."