Metro DC area’s burn center sees spike in visits since quarantine began

Since the pandemic hit, the number of people going to the D.C. region’s burn center is up dramatically, and cases are more serious than usual, the center’s director said.

“We’ve had nearly 60 to 70% of more volume than we normally have during this time of the year,” said Dr. Jeffrey Shupp, director of the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center serves D.C., Southern Maryland, Northern Virginia and eastern West Virginia.

“From about the end of February until now, we’ve seen burns that are larger than we typically see,” Shupp said. “We have more patients in the intensive care unit than we would normally have for this time of the year.”

About 30 to 40% of the burns involve cooking accidents. And, they too are unusual. Grease or cooking burns typically are on the arm, forearm or fingers.

“We’re seeing large total body surface area injury from cooking-related accidents,” Shupp said.

Burns also involve spewing car radiators, vehicle wrecks that catch fire, back yard bonfires and grills.

Shupp said he doesn’t have hard data about why the number of burn injuries is rising, but he suspects quarantine is playing a role.

“I guess there are more people cooking at home since restaurants have been closed. And people are dabbling in different types of activities that maybe they don’t normally do,” Shupp said.

Shupp said burn centers nationwide are experiencing similar surges, and he expects there will be a study in coming months to closely examine what has been happening and why.

Some tips to help minimize potential problems from kitchen fires include:

  • Get an “all purpose” fire extinguisher. It will work on grease.
  • Check that extinguishers aren’t past expiration dates.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing that can catch fire when cooking.
  • Don’t use water on cooking fires. That can make them worse.
  • Don’t toss anything on the fire to prevent splashes from getting on you.
  • Don’t try to move pots or pans containing food on fire.
  • Cover fires with a pot or pan lid.

“A lot of people in the heat of the moment, no pun intended, are trying to keep their home from being destroyed or trying to get the fire out of the home and that often ends poorly,” Shupp said. “So, don’t try to play firefighter … if you don’t have a fire extinguisher try to get away and cover the fire as quickly as possible.”

Looking ahead to the Fourth of July:

“Leave the fireworks to professionals, so you don’t get injured,” Shupp said.

Shupp said firework related-injuries wax and wane from year to year. He estimated the 2019 Independence Day season saw 20 to 30 admissions to the burn center.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up