Virus Takes Toll on Other Patients

Fear of the coronavirus keeps many away from emergency rooms
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2020 5:03 PM CDT
Fear Keeps Non-COVID-19 Patients Away From Hospitals
FDNY ambulances are seen entering and leaving the emergency room at Queens Hospital Center, Monday, April 20, 2020, in the Jamaica neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with...   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Among the medical mysteries during the pandemic is one that doesn't involve COVID-19. Hospitals and doctors are wondering where all the patients who are seriously ill from other causes have gone, the Washington Post reports. A 700-bed hospital in Charleston has room for other patients but few takers. "We have five COVID patients in the hospital right now," the hospital's trauma medical director says, "and we have five appendicitis cases." The latter patients are facing complications because they waited to seek care. Other types of patients are doing that, too. "People with smaller heart attacks, they may say, 'Well I hope this is just indigestion,'" a cardiovascular specialist in Boston says. The issue is widespread. "Everybody is frightened to come to the ER," says a surgeon at Mount Sinai in New York.

Others are shut out of the care they need. A Rutgers sociology professor had a relapse of the blood cancer he'd been fighting for eight years. When the outbreak hit Philadelphia, blood supplies were rationed, and he couldn't get the transfusions he needed before chemo, per the New York Times. His clinic appointments were canceled. He died in April, and his wife considers him a victim of the pandemic, too. Elective surgeries were largely stopped early in the outbreak, but now patients and doctors are wrestling with what to do about illnesses and conditions that could worsen if treatment is delayed too long. "We are worried that there might be a higher death toll from neglect of other diseases" than from the pandemic, one doctor says. Hospitals that can handle more patients have begun campaigns to reassure patients it's safe to come in. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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