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When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, elective surgeries in New Jersey were halted and everybody was told to call ahead if they were heading to a hospital emergency room.

As coronavirus cases dropped dramatically in May, the ban on elective surgeries was lifted and now New Jersey is considered to be one of the safest states in the nation, with all of the important virus metrics remaining low.

Nevertheless, many Garden State residents are still wary about going to a medical facility for treatment.

“We’re seeing that the emergency room volume state-wide is down about 20% from pre-COVID levels and that worries us quite frankly,” said Kerry McKean Kelly, the vice president of communications and member services for the New Jersey Hospital Association.

She said the trend is concerning because delaying necessary medical care and regular check-ups can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

“Something that might have been quite simple to help with if diagnosed and treated early can become a much more serious health condition,” she said.

She noted hospitals have taken tremendous precautions since the early days of COVID-19 to make sure all patients and staff members are protected, including setting up temperature check stations, barriers, special entrances and ultraviolet-light disinfectants.

Dr. Craig Gronczewski, the chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine for Penn Medicine Princeton Health, said doctors now have a much better handle on how to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

“No patient with any symptoms suggestive of COVID comingle, cohabitate [or] are in common areas shared with other patients," he said.

“Patients, visitors that come to the ER are not going to be walking by or sitting next to someone in the waiting room that have symptoms or are there to get checked out for COVID or have fever or cough," he said.

McKean Kelly said “hospitals are testing every patient who comes in for a procedure, an elective procedure, to make sure they have the information they need about COVID precautions.”

Gronczewski said that at this point, “patients should utilize the emergency department if they feel that they are having an emergency. They should go and they should go without fear of contracting the virus.”

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