COVID-19 Symptoms and Exposures: Know When to Call Your Doctor or Seek Emergency Care
The Cook Children’s Emergency Department (ED) has seen a big influx of parents bringing in children who have been exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms. Children who aren’t critically-injured or ill should go instead to their pediatrician or a COVID-19 testing site.
“If your child needs emergency care treatment, our Emergency Department is here for you. That’s why we’re here,” said Natalie Carpenter, director of Emergency Services at Cook Children's. “But please don’t come to the emergency department for a simple COVID test.”
Carpenter said many parents have come to Cook Children’s ED in a panic because their child was exposed to a classmate at school who tested positive for COVID-19. The parents often bring younger siblings too, so that the whole family can be tested in the ED. High volumes of non-emergency patients puts unnecessary strain on the department.
“It pulls away staffing from the critically-injured and ill and it takes away bed space,” she said.
As an example, Carpenter said, of the 361 patients seen in the ED on Tuesday, almost half were considered less urgent or non-emergent. Many of the patients could have been seen at a pediatrician’s office or clinic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists these COVID-19 symptoms requiring emergency care:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
With schools reopening and COVID-19 cases on the rise, parents should encourage their children and teens to wear masks, social distance, wash their hands frequently, and follow guidance for quarantining. Carpenter encouraged parents who suspect their child might have COVID-19, and are not exhibiting symptoms, to get tested at drive-thru centers or other designated testing facilities.
It’s important to know that Cook Children’s urgent care clinics are unable to perform rapid COVID-19 testing on a child who doesn’t show symptoms. Cook Children’s does have drive-thru testing sites, but those appointments are scheduled only through a Cook Children’s pediatrician and for specific times and locations.
Kara Starnes, D.O., medical director of Cook Children’s Urgent Care, said patient numbers and wait times have dramatically increased recently. Dr. Starnes said 737 patients came to urgent care on Tuesday – compared to a previous maximum of about 650 patients.
“The usual surge that comes when school starts is usually about two to four weeks post back-to-school,” she said. “We’re seeing strep infections, common colds and pink eye as well as the expected substantial increase in COVID cases as kids are now congregating together at school, often without masks.”
Where do you go when your child needs to be seen by a doctor? Here’s a guide:
- Go to the emergency room if your child has trouble breathing, unusual sleepiness or confusion, poison ingestion, head injury with vomiting, serious burn or another life-threatening condition.
- Call your health care provider if your child has ear pain, sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting, rash, cough or other non-urgent health concerns. The pediatrician ’s office can help you decide what steps to take.
- If you can’t get to your provider’s office or it’s after hours, go to an urgent care center. Urgent care centers manage the same problems as your regular health care provider plus services such as X-rays, stitches and splints.
For more information, visit www.cookchildrens.org/coronavirus.