Despite the changes, the number of people treated in hospital emergency rooms for severe product-related injuries remained flat, falling a negligible 1 percent from March to September during the pandemic last year, compared with the same period the year before.
People still got hurt, just in different ways.
“That’s what we anticipated would happen. But there were notable shifts in the kinds of activities where the injuries occurred,” said Ik-Whan Kwon, an emeritus professor and founder of a consumer product safety program at Saint Louis University.
The CPSC injury data provides a fresh hint of how the pandemic — and attempts to curtail it — had an impact on everyday life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that calls to poison centers about cleaners and disinfectants increased sharply at the start of the pandemic. And burn injuries jumped last year as people cooked more at home.
The CPSC injury data gives an important but incomplete picture of what occurred because it is limited to information from hospital emergency rooms. And the pandemic appeared to cause people to second-guess whether they needed to go to the hospital. So while severe injuries stayed flat, the number of minor product injuries — where they were treated and released or left without being seen by staff — fell by 27 percent.
The CPSC also found that the number of product-related deaths reported at hospital ERs increased 10 percent. Most of that appeared to come from more falls at home. But the agency said that the 5,500 deaths reported over six months last year represented a fraction of the 48,000 expected annual product-related deaths and that more investigation is needed.
The pandemic led to changes in routines — and that led to new risks.
With many schools closed and organized sports on hiatus, the number of minor injuries from track-and-field equipment was down nearly 80 percent, according to the CPSC. Soccer, hockey, baseball and football saw drops of at least two-thirds in their injury numbers.
While most of the decreases were concentrated among school-age children, the number of people older than 70 playing any sport also saw a precipitous decline in injuries during the worst of the pandemic.
The biggest increases in severe injuries came from fireworks — which nearly tripled — and home power tools, which more than doubled. Cleaning agents, such as disinfectants, were blamed for almost twice as many severe injuries. Right behind them were “drinking glasses” — most likely from lacerations when the glasses broke.
The pandemic-induced lifestyle changes also presented different age groups with new dangers.
Children younger than 10 years old saw the biggest increase in injuries from skateboards and scooters.
People in their 20s saw injuries from “massage devices,” which includes sex toys, more than double.
People in their 40s and 50s suffered the biggest increase in firework injuries.
People in their 70s saw a doubling in injuries from eye, ear and mouth protection devices — most often the masks that became essential items during the pandemic. Most of these injuries were minor cuts and skin rashes.