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Paediatric patients seen in 18 emergency departments during the COVID-19 pandemic


Background Public health mitigation strategies in British Columbia during the pandemic included stay-at-home orders and closure of non-essential services. While most primary physicians’ offices were closed, hospitals prepared for a pandemic surge and emergency departments (EDs) stayed open to provide care for urgent needs. We sought to determine whether ED paediatric presentations prior and during the COVID-19 pandemic changed and review acuity compared with seasonal adjusted prior year.

Methods We analysed records from 18 EDs in British Columbia, Canada, serving 60% of the population. We included children 0–16 years old and excluded those with no recorded acuity or discharge disposition and those left without being seen by a physician. We compared prepandemic (before the first COVID-19 case), early pandemic (after first COVID-19 case) and peak pandemic (during public health emergency) periods as well as a similar time from the previous year.

Results A reduction of 57% and 70% in overall visits was recorded in the children’s hospital ED and the general hospitals EDs, respectively. Average daily visits declined significantly during the peak-pandemic period (167.44±40.72) compared with prepandemic period (543.53±58.8). Admission rates increased mainly due to the decrease in the rate of visits with lower acuity. Children with complaints of ‘fever’ and ‘gastrointestinal’ symptoms had both the largest overall volume and per cent reduction in visits between peak-pandemic and prior year (79% and 74%, respectively).

Conclusion Paediatric emergency medicine attendances were reduced to one-third of normal numbers during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in British Columbia, Canada, with the reduction mainly seen in minor illnesses that do not usually require admission.

  • paediatric emergency med

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