Calling 9-1-1 for medical emergencies still important, even during the COVID-19 pandemic

Calling 9-1-1 is the most important thing you can do during a heart attack or stroke emergency, yet health officials have found a drop in calls to 9-1-1 due to fear of catching COVID-19 in the hospital. 

According to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the ER visits in April were down 42% across the country compared to the same period last year. Additionally, new data from ImageTrend Collaborate™, a national pre-hospital de-identified database, suggests 9-1-1 transports were down 29% from January 2020 to April 2020.

The American Heart Association stresses that the hospital is still the safest place to be if someone is experiencing a life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack or stroke. Calling 9-1-1 ensures quick arrival to the hospital and rapid attention in the emergency room, as compared to arriving by car.

“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.

While the American Heart Association has been educating people about the need to call 9-1-1 for heart attack and stroke warning signs for years, they’ve doubled down on those efforts during the coronavirus pandemic with the launch of a new campaign called, “Don’t Die of Doubt.”

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 special emergency rooms, operating rooms, cardiac catherization rooms and intensive care units to separate patients who don’t have the coronavirus from those who do.

If you experience any of these heart attack or stroke warning signs, don’t stay home. Call 9-1-1 immediately. It could increase your chances of having a positive outcome.

Heart Attack Warning Signs:

  • 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.

The acronym F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the most common signs of a stroke:

Stroke Warning Signs:

  • F – Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • A – Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S – 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?
  • T – 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.

Visit for a full list of the stroke warning signs.

Data came from a subset of ImageTrend Collaborate™, a national Pre-hospital de-identified database.