Awareness campaign aims to alleviate unnecessary fears about calling 9-1-1 in pandemic

As new COVID-19 cases continue to rise in 22 states and strain emergency departments nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) suggest ER visits in April were down 42% across the country compared to the same period last year.

[1]Additionally, new data from ImageTrend Collaborate™, a national pre-hospital de-identified database, suggests 9-1-1 means of transport are down 29% from January 2020 to April 2020.[2]Yet, heart attacks and strokes haven't stopped for COVID-19.

To combat this trend, the American Heart Association, the world's leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, has created a new public education and awareness campaign called, Don't Die of Doubt™, that reminds Americans that the hospital remains the safest place to be if they experience symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke.

The campaign emphasizes that the best chance to survive an acute event, like a heart attack or a stroke, is to call 9-1-1 and get an ambulance to the hospital. From dispatchers to first responders, the emergency response system is trained to help safely and quickly, even during a pandemic.

"Heart attacks and strokes don't stop happening just because of COVID-19," said Robert Harrington, M.D., FAHA, Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Medicine at Stanford University, and president of the American Heart Association.

"With heart attacks and strokes, time is of the essence. Our 'Don't Die of Doubt' effort attempts to alleviate unnecessary fears about calling 9-1-1 or going to the emergency department during the pandemic."

"Emergency responders, as well as doctors and nurses at the hospital, are well-equipped to keep you, and themselves, safe while providing lifesaving emergency care. When seconds count, the hospital is the still safest place to be."

Hospitals are following protocols to sanitize, socially distance, and keep infected people away from others.

In fact, many now have separate emergency rooms, operating rooms, cardiac catheterization rooms and intensive care units for people with COVID-19, and for people without. It is safe for anyone to go to the hospital.

We've all read the headlines about the decrease in 9-1-1 calls suggesting that many people are not seeking care for medical emergencies like a heart attack or strokes."

Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association

"This is of great concern because we know that heart attacks and strokes have not stopped. The Association is responding by reassuring the public that hospitals are the safest place to be if you have an emergency. Yes, you can -- and should -- still call 9-1-1 and go to the ER for emergencies. Don't stay silent and don't stay home."

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes — it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  • Women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain. Some women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Use the letters in "F.A.S.T." to recognize signs of a stroke:

  • Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech difficulty. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1. If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

The launch of the campaign nationally is made possible, in part, through the generous financial support of Medtronic.

"Medtronic is proud to be a foundational supporter of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association's COVID-19 response," said Geoff Martha, chief executive officer of Medtronic.

"Funding from Medtronic will support the expansion of the 'Don't Die of Doubt' education campaign's life-saving message."

The American Heart Association is also reaching out to its network of corporate and health system partners in communities nationwide to help spread the word.

Journal reference:

Hartnett, K. P., et al. (2020) Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Emergency Department Visits — United States, January 1, 2019–May 30, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. icon.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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