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Pediatric emergency rooms become eerily quiet as hospitals await COVID-19 surge

Mar 26, 2020

As hospitals work to make room for an anticipated wave of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks, some parts of their operations have become eerily empty.

In the pediatric emergency department at Golisano Children’s Hospital, there’s still a dull hum of machinery under the intermittent beeps of monitors. But Dr. Elizabeth Murray says it’s a far cry from the usual cacophony.

The pediatric emergency department at Golisano Children's Hospital has become strangely empty as health care workers prepare for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients.
Credit Golisano Children's Hospital staff

“Normally, all the patient rooms are full, and there’s lots of activity, and there’s doctors from other services coming in and people delivering equipment and moving things around and people getting checked in,” she said.

Murray said usually she would hear constant communication between staff -- ambulance workers dropping off patients, doctors going over treatment plans, residents reporting to physicians.

“Instead, I heard stillness,” she said. “It was a sense of being still. And emergency departments are not normally still.”

The department remains open and is accepting patients, Murray said.

“Kids are still getting appendicitis, and that kind of regular stuff is still happening,” she said.

“We’re trying to lessen the elective procedures, but if people still need emergency care, we are definitely there, ready, willing and able to help.”

Reducing the number of people who come to the hospital has three primary benefits, doctors say.

It reduces the demand on health care workers and frees up time and space in the hospital for treating patients with COVID-19.

It minimizes the amount of personal protective gear that hospital workers need to use at a time when they are already running low.

And it decreases the risk of people transmitting the virus to others in the hospital.

County officials and leaders at Rochester’s two major hospital systems have been urging people to either call their doctor or the county public health department before seeking treatment or testing for COVID-19.

Making those calls instead of showing up in person can prevent the disease from spreading, they said.

In the pediatric field specifically, Murray and other doctors said their recent low patient numbers are an indication that parents are heeding the official advice to stay home.

“Thank you,” Murray said. “Thank you for doing that, from all of us.”