The impact of COVID-19 on statewide EMS use for cardiac emergencies and stroke in Massachusetts

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2021 Jan 4;2(1):e12351. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12351. eCollection 2021 Feb.


Objective: To evaluate the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on emergency medical services (EMS) use for time-sensitive medical conditions. We examined EMS use for cardiac arrest, stroke, and other cardiac emergencies across Massachusetts during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluating their relationship to statewide COVID-19 incidence and a statewide emergency declaration.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of all EMS calls between February 15 and May 15, 2020 and the same time period for 2019. EMS call volumes were compared before and after March 10, the date of a statewide emergency declaration.

Results: A total of 408,758 calls were analyzed, of which 49,405 (12.1%) represented stroke, cardiac arrest, or other cardiac emergencies. Average call volume before March 10 was similar in both years but decreased significantly after March 10, 2020 by 18.7% (P < 0.001). Compared to 2019, there were 35.6% fewer calls for cardiac emergencies after March 10, 2020 (153.6 vs 238.4 calls/day, P < 0.001) and 12.3% fewer calls for stroke (40.0 vs 45.6 calls/day, P = 0.04). Calls for cardiac arrest increased 18.2% (28.6 vs 24.2 calls/day, P < 0.001). Calls for respiratory concerns also increased (208.8 vs 199.7 calls/day, P < 0.001). There was no significant association between statewide incidence of COVID-19 and EMS call volume.

Conclusions: EMS use for certain time-sensitive conditions decreased after a statewide emergency declaration, irrespective of actual COVID-19 incidence, suggesting the decrease was related to perception instead of actual case counts. These findings have implications for public health messaging. Measures must be taken to clearly inform the public that immediate emergency care for time-sensitive conditions remains imperative.