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A Call to Arms: Emergency Hand and Upper-Extremity Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic.



Limited data exist regarding volumetric trends and management of upper-extremity emergencies during periods of social restriction and duress, such as the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. We sought to study the effect of shelter-in-place orders on emergent operative upper-extremity surgery.


All patients undergoing emergent and time-sensitive operations to the finger(s), hand, wrist, and forearm were tracked over an equal number of days before and after shelter-in-place orders at 2 geographically distinct Level I trauma centers. Surgical volume and resources, patient demographics, and injury patterns were compared before and after official shelter-in-place orders.


A total of 58 patients underwent time-sensitive or emergent operations. Mean patient age was 42 years; mean injury severity score was 9 and median American Society of Anesthesiologist score was 2. There was a 40% increase in volume after shelter-in-place orders, averaging 1.4 cases/d. Indications for surgery included high-energy closed fracture (60%), traumatic nerve injury (19%), severe soft tissue infection (15%), and revascularization of the arm, hand, or digit(s) (15%). High-risk behavior, defined as lawlessness, assault, and high-speed auto accidents, was associated with a significantly greater proportion of operations after shelter-in-place orders (40% vs 12.5%; P < .05). Each institution dedicated an average of 3 inpatient beds and one intensive care unit-capable bed to upper-extremity care daily. Resources used included an average of 115 minutes of daily operating room time and 8 operating room staff or personnel per case.


Hand and upper-extremity operative volume increased after shelter-in-place orders at 2 major Level I trauma centers across the country, demanding considerable hospital resources. The rise in volume was associated with an increase in high-risk behavior.

Type of study/level of evidence

Therapeutic IV.

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