If you’re sick, stay home. If you need care, go to the hospital.

The messages may seem contradictory, but they’re really not.

During the first stage of stay-at-home precautions against the spread of Covid-19, Albertans were wary about burdening clinics and hospitals for fear of taking capacity away from people who “really need it.”

At the same time, many feared that hospitals were unsafe places to be during a pandemic.

As a result, there have been stories of people allowing medical conditions to go untreated, perhaps putting their own health at risk.

“I can say that I have heard about that anecdotally,” said Dr. Kristin Klein, Medical Officer of Health for the North Central area.

“I don’t have any concrete numbers about how often it’s been occurring. From my perspective, throughout this whole Covid crisis, it’s always been important that people who have urgent medical needs where they would normally go to the emergency department or call 911, that they still do that,” she said.

“I want to encourage everybody to make sure they still are doing those things. And if they have urgent requirements, the hospital is a safe place to go.”

Additional precautions are in place at hospitals, including screening people for infectious symptoms when they come in, and
using masks to prevent the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus.

“There was more of a stop in certain services at the beginning of this and into the spring, just to make sure that there was capacity in hospitals to respond to cases if they required hospitalization or ICU,” Klein said. 

“But as we’re moving into the relaunch phase, those restrictions are easing up. So more surgeries are happening, more ambulatory care visits are happening, but [we’re]always trying to do that in a safe way.”

Some service reductions remain, she said. Some doctors are not seeing patients, some are doing more “virtual” appointments. She recommends calling your practitioner to find out what options are available.

Patients can also call Alberta HealthLink by dialing 811 for general advice.

Whether it’s for a chronic condition or emergency needs, neglecting to find appropriate care can put patients in danger, Klein said.

She’s heard of people with chest pains or difficulty breathing, who should be seeking immediate care, deciding not to go to the hospital.

She said managing the pandemic has been a constant balance of trying to figure out the risks versus the benefits of providing services. Right now, she said, the risk in Alberta is fairly low. 

“Part of that is due to people following the public health guidelines and maintaining distance, staying home when sick, and all of those measures,” Klein said.

“I don’t want to dissuade people from doing that, but definitely there are more services that are being opened corresponding to that lower level of risk.”

While Klein encourages people to seek the medical treatment they need, she cautions that the pandemic isn’t over and people need to be careful. And she acknowledges it may sound like a conflicting message, but she urges people to stay home if they are sick—other than to seek medical care.

“Make sure to maintain social distancing and handwashing and all those precautions, and that way we can keep everybody safe and healthy,” she said.