Association between COVID-19 diagnosis and presenting chief complaint from New York City triage data

Christopher T. Clifford, Trevor R. Pour, Robert Freeman, David L. Reich, Benjamin S. Glicksberg, Matthew A. Levin, Eyal Klang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and aim: New York City (NYC) is an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Proper triage of patients with possible COVID-19 via chief complaint is critical but not fully optimized. This study aimed to investigate the association between presentation by chief complaints and COVID-19 status. Methods: We retrospectively analyzed adult emergency department (ED) patient visits from five different NYC hospital campuses from March 1, 2020 to May 13, 2020 of patients who underwent nasopharyngeal COVID-19 RT-PCR testing. The positive and negative COVID-19 cohorts were then assessed for different chief complaints obtained from structured triage data. Sub-analysis was performed for patients older than 65 and within chief complaints with high mortality. Results: Of 11,992 ED patient visits who received COVID-19 testing, 6524/11992 (54.4%) were COVID-19 positive. 73.5% of fever, 67.7% of shortness of breath, and 65% of cough had COVID-19, but others included 57.5% of weakness/fall/altered mental status, 55.5% of glycemic control, and 51.4% of gastrointestinal symptoms. In patients over 65, 76.7% of diarrhea, 73.7% of fatigue, and 69.3% of weakness had COVID-19. 45.5% of dehydration, 40.5% of altered mental status, 27% of fall, and 24.6% of hyperglycemia patients experienced mortality. Conclusion: A novel high risk COVID-19 patient population was identified from chief complaint data, which is different from current suggested CDC guidelines, and may help triage systems to better isolate COVID-19 patients. Older patients with COVID-19 infection presented with more atypical complaints warranting special consideration. COVID-19 was associated with higher mortality in a unique group of complaints also warranting special consideration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-524
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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