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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Emergency room visits decreased drastically at the beginning of the pandemic, even among patients suffering from the most severe health conditions, according to a new study released yesterday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study suggests that patients avoided a wide range of care — including for some life-threatening conditions — and not just care that is easily delayed.

By the numbers: The study found that emergency room visits decreased by 35% overall across a health system in the St. Louis metro area after the announcement of a stay-at-home order.

  • The most serious visits — those for emergency, nonpreventable care — decreased by 40%, and nonemergency visits decreased by 52%.
  • Mental health visits decreased by 32%, and visits due to alcohol and drugs didn't see a significant decrease.
  • Patients with Medicaid and private insurance saw larger decreases than those with Medicare. There were no observable differences by race.

Between the lines: High-stakes emergency room visits dropped a concerning amount, while low-stakes visits didn't decrease enough.

  • A decrease in ED visits for non-emergency care could be seen as a good thing for the system which too often sees overuse.
  • However, the data indicates many people who truly needed care didn't seek it out, while many of those who could have waited or gotten care elsewhere still showed up.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Sep 15, 2021 - Health

Report: 26 states have limited state or local officials' public health powers

A woman holds an anti-mask and vaccine placard outside a meeting of the Volusia County School Board in Deland, Florida. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Republican lawmakers in more than half of U.S. states have weakened state or local officials' authority to implement policies to protect the public against the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, AP and Kaiser Health News report.

The big picture: Since the coronavirus pandemic began, lawmakers in all 50 states have introduced bills to curb state and local officials' public health authority, a KHN review found.

Sep 15, 2021 - Health

NIH launches massive project to study long COVID

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The National Institute of Health is launching a nationwide series of studies with as many as 40,000 people to research the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Why it matters: COVID symptoms that last more than four weeks, usually referred to as long COVID, have become an emerging public health concern as researchers do not know the cause.