Corona Collateral Damage Syndrome: Afraid of getting Covid-19 from hospital ER, people are dying at home

Corona Collateral Damage Syndrome: Afraid of getting Covid-19 from hospital ER, people are dying at home
(Getty Images)

Things are looking a lot quieter in emergency rooms across the country these days.

Before the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States, hundreds of thousands of people sought emergency medical attention every day. However, those numbers have plummeted sharply in the weeks since the novel coronavirus began its spread throughout the country. 

In California, physicians overseeing emergency departments have reported a decline of at least a third to a half of regular hospital emergency visits.

This comes amid drastic measures undertaken by hospitals across the state to prepare for a possible wave of patients infected by the coronavirus.

That said, health officials are getting increasingly worried that the aforementioned steps, coupled with the widespread fear that the contagion thrives in emergency rooms, has left people unwilling to seek treatment despite needing immediate life-saving help.

“Where are the strokes and the heart attacks? Where are the diabetics having complications?” Dr Larry Stock, an emergency physician at Antelope Valley Hospital, told Los Angeles Times. “These cases didn’t just vaporize with the virus. I worry people are suffering at home because they’re afraid our emergency rooms are radioactive.”

Doors lead into the Emergency Department at St. Barnabas Hospital on March 23, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York City (Getty Images)

While physicians still maintain urgent warnings about the virus, they are now working to spread awareness that emergency departments are not overrun and can treat people with a low risk of infection. The growing fear among critical patients has now been dubbed as the “corona collateral damage syndrome,” and its effects are already evident as hospitals and state agencies begin to gather comprehensive figures surrounding the phenomenon.

Doctors are worried that there are thousands dying at home from conditions that are treatable at hospitals, and those that survive are destined to suffer from chronic conditions due to their failure to seek help.

A similar situation is being faced by medical centers in mid-south states such as Tennessee.

“It’s been a little less hectic than what I’m typically used to,” Dr Kimberly Brown, who works at Baptist-Desoto Hospital, told WMC Action News.

ER visits at the entire Baptist hospital system between March 15 and April 15 have reduced by at least 27% as compared to last year, according to numbers provided by a spokesperson.

Dr Brown has echoed similar concerns, saying people are afraid of going to the emergency room out of fear of contracting Covid-19.

“One of the concerns that I’m having is people are staying at home with conditions that could be pretty easily treated in the hospital, and unfortunately, they are dying at home," she said.

And among those who are visiting the emergency room, Brown says there is an increasing number of patients who are really sick.

In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, Sailors prepare to admit the first patient aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) March 29 (Getty Images)

Over in North Carolina, non-coronavirus traffic at emergency rooms have declined by almost 40% to 50%.

Dr Abhi Mehrotra, who oversees emergency departments at UNC Health hospitals in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, says the exact reasons for the downtick are still a mystery.

 “I don’t know yet what’s the cause behind patients not seeking care,” Mehrotra told a video press conference on April 20. “We don’t think that magically there’s been a significant change in the illness factors in our community — that the number of heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis have gone down over this period of time.”

Mehrotra suggested that people are mostly deferring treatment until they can no longer bear it.
“That’s one of the things that concerns me, is that patients are not seeking care that [they need],” he said.

The most vulnerable cases, doctors fear, are people with symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke who choose to stay at home. Admissions for strokes at Duke Health’s three hospitals in the Triangle are down 34% in recent weeks. Meanwhile, admissions of cardiovascular patients have dropped by 65%.

Both heart attacks and strokes can be treated most successfully if caught early, according to Dr Manesh Patel, chief of cardiology for Duke Health. However, those who convince themselves to put off treatment are set to face dire complications later.

“What we tell people is time is muscle,” Patel told WMC. “The more time spent at home, the more time your heart muscle is dying.”

Nurses in the COVID-19 unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital check the fit of protective equipment before entering a patient's room on March 24, 2020, in Leonardtown, Maryland (Getty Images)

According to a study of nine major cardiac centers across the country, it seems to be a nationwide problem.

The study found that the number of patients who underwent critical artery-clearing procedures in March had dropped 38% compared to an earlier period.

In an effort to highlight major problems that could arise if illnesses or injuries are allowed to fester, physicians offered LA Times disturbing accounts of patients arriving after suffering chronic infections, lacerations, and ruptured appendixes which can prove to be fatal.

According to several experts, fear of contracting Covid-19 at emergency centers is largely misplaced.

The risk of infection is extremely low if a hospital has implemented standard safety measures like screening patients before they enter the ER, cleaning thoroughly, and quarantining those who show symptoms of the virus, they said.

Several health officials are now trying to spread that message, including Dr Christina Ghaly, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Last week, she asserted that emergency patients “do not need to be worried” about getting infected in their hospitals.

If people continue to forgo emergency treatment during the current crisis, it could result in a drastic uptick in cases of congestive heart failure, major strokes, and other chronic problems—and the effect could be deep and long-lasting.

“Down the road, we don’t want to look back and see high mortality rates in cases we could have helped if people had come in,” Dr Sam Torbati, co-director of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai, told LA Times.

“We need to bring the pendulum back to a reasonable spot," he insisted.

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