Over the last two months, COVID-19 has quickly consumed our lives. We’ve all seen harrowing images of exhausted doctors and nurses struggling to keep up in virus-consumed emergency rooms and ICUs across the U.S. and around the world. Fortunately, that scenario is not a reality at Valley Health at this time.

In short order, most Americans have learned the particulars of pandemics: the importance of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment, preventing virus transmission through frequent hand-washing, covering sneezes and social distancing, and how staying at home can help “flatten the curve,” blunting anticipated spikes that might overwhelm our community’s health care resources.

Valley Health supports area governors’ stay-at-home orders, which urge all residents except essential personnel to work, learn, play, shop and eat from the safety of their homes.

On behalf of all my Emergency Medicine colleagues, I offer a clarification to that order: if you or a loved one is experiencing chest pain, severe shortness of breath, a diabetic emergency, sudden change in mental status, or other acute illness or injury, please, please call 911 or come immediately to the closest emergency department for care.

Certain medical crises are immediately life threatening; others will, within hours, progress from serious but manageable to critical and possibly not. Emergency providers – our EMS partners in the field and our hospital-based team – much prefer to see you earlier when our intervention has the best chance of success.

Valley Health has been preparing for COVID-19 for weeks and has contingency plans for every conceivable occurrence. We restricted visitation to minimize the risk of virus spread. We curtailed non-emergent services and procedures to limit interaction as well as conserve resources for COVID-19 care. We are now caring for patients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19, and we are prepared as a health system to handle likely surges. We have been fortunate to learn from the experience of others to ensure that we are offering our COVID-19 patients the latest Centers for Disease Controll and Prevention-recommended treatment in dedicated zones to protect staff and other patients.

It is very important that we not scare away the sick or injured from coming to us in an emergency. That’s why we’re here. Our emergency department and inpatient staff can appropriately manage the care of individuals with suspected COVID-19 without jeopardizing the safe, high-quality treatment of those experiencing a heart attack, stroke, trauma, GI bleed or other serious event. As the emergency team for Valley Health, we remain committed to providing for all of our community’s emergency care needs.

Please let us help you!

Dr. Michael Watts is chair of Emergency Medicine, Valley Health Winchester Medical Center. He and more than 50 other physicians staff the emergency departments at Valley Health’s six hospitals.