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Virus worries cause uptick at some ERs, urgent care centers

Dr. Barry Rosenthal, chairman at the emergency department

Dr. Barry Rosenthal, chairman at the emergency department at NYU Winthrop in Mineola, stressed that "people shouldn't be flocking to the emergency department to get reassurance." Credit: Howard Schnapp

Some local emergency rooms and urgent care centers are seeing an increase in visits or calls concerning the coronavirus, doctors said Tuesday. 

Catholic Health Services has seen an increase in patients visiting emergency departments, said Dr. Christopher Raio, chief of emergency medicine at the health system. 

"We've seen a noticeable increase in Emergency Department visits over the past week with people presenting with concerns for coronavirus,” Raio said. “Many are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, [muscle aches] and fatigue. There is definitely public concern."

New Hyde Park-based PM Pediatrics, which operates walk-in clinics for children throughout Long Island, has yet to see an increase in patients but is "starting to experience an increase in call volume and anticipate more as the situation evolves," said Dr. Christina Johns, the group's senior medical adviser.

"It's important to put the volume in context, because we are also in the middle of the influenza season and are seeing many children with fever, cough and cold symptoms," Johns said.

Doctors at other facilities said they're expecting an increase in visits as more cases of the virus are registered in New York.

"Now that there are confirmed cases in New York City, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more people" in the ER, said Dr. Barry Rosenthal, chairman at the emergency department at NYU Winthrop in Mineola. "But we are stressing that people shouldn't be flocking to the emergency department to get reassurance."

Rosenthal said generally if someone is feeling sick, they should contact their primary care doctor.

"The general management of this virus is no different than someone with the cold or flu," he said, adding that someone would come to the ER if they're suffering from "shortness of breath or pneumonia."

Northwell's North Shore University Hospital hasn't seen an uptick in ER visits because of the virus. 

"We haven't seen any changes, but we are certainly prepared," said Dr. Michael Gitman, North Shore's medical director. He said patients should call their physician if they have symptoms, traveled to an area where the coronavirus has been prevalent or been in contact with someone who tested positive.

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