Advisory Advisory Regarding Appropriate Use of Emergency Departments

Date: 01/14/2022
Organization: Department of Public Health
Referenced Sources: Download: Advisory Regarding Appropriate Use of Emergency Departments

Table of Contents


Emergency departments are experiencing significant staff shortages and long wait times for care.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) advises all residents to seek medical care where they will be most appropriately treated. You should only go to the hospital emergency department for emergency care. Seeking care at the emergency department for non-emergent or routine healthcare needs, including mild COVID-19 symptoms or testing, diverts critical resources away from other patients who have serious emergencies. If you or your loved one are ill and need medical attention but are experiencing a non-life-threatening emergency, please contact your primary care provider or urgent care center; many health issues can be treated more quickly and effectively in these settings.

If you are seeking COVID-19 testing or vaccination, please do not go to the emergency department. Only access hospitals that have designated vaccination clinics and ensure you have an appointment, if one is required.  

You may not need a PCR test from a health care provider. Rapid antigen tests are an acceptable alternative to PCR or molecular tests in most situations, including the following: 

  • To exit isolation or quarantine, in line with DPH guidance
  • To receive therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies or antiviral medications if the patient is at high risk for severe outcomes
  • To confirm a positive COVID-19 rapid antigen test
  • Employers, or schools and childcare providers should not require a test as a condition of returning to work, school, or childcare; an employer chooses to require testing, a PCR should not be required.
  • Some countries require a negative PCR test for entry, but many now allow for rapid antigen tests. Travelers should check requirements prior to travel.

For more information on when a PCR test may be needed, please see the Public Health Advisory Regarding COVID-19 Testing issued by DPH on January 11, 2022.

Help prevent hospitalization

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine and booster, when eligible
  • Wear a mask or face covering when indoors (and not in your own home), regardless of vaccination status.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, isolate immediately and talk to a healthcare provider about possible treatment.
  • Get a flu shot when it is available. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or your inner elbow, not your hands.
  • Stay home if you are sick and keep children home from childcare or school if they are sick.

When to seek emergency medical attention

Seek emergency medical care immediately by calling 911 or going to an emergency department if you or your loved one has any of the following conditions or symptoms:

  • Serious injury, severe pain or allergic reaction, seizures or other serious acute condition
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent chest pain or chest pressure
  • Suddenly hard to wake up, too sleepy, or confused
  • Suddenly not able to speak, see, walk, or move
  • Loss of consciousness, fainting
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • High fever with headache and stiff neck, or that does not get better with medicine
  • Throwing up or loose stools that does not stop
  • Poisoning or overdose of drug or alcohol
  • Suicidal thoughts

For more detail on when and where to seek medical care for your child, visit: When to go to the Emergency Department