Where have all the heart attacks and strokes gone?
That's the worrisome question plaguing emergency room physicians across the country as people postpone going to the hospital for fear of catching the coronavirus. It's the fatal fallout that U.S. doctors have feared for weeks. As the pandemic took hold, the number of patients showing up at hospitals with serious cardiovascular emergencies shrunk dramatically. People are dying at home as a result.
Across the country, ER volumes are down about 40% to 50%, Dr. William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told NPR.
"I haven't seen anything like it, ever," he said. "We anticipated, actually, higher volumes."
According to the Detroit Free Press, during the pandemic, heart attack victims have died at home and stroke victims have left symptoms go unchecked for too long. Experts say COVID-19 has people so scared that they are letting life-threatening ailments go unchecked.
Doctors say that once-bustling emergency rooms are now eerily calm. One of the reasons is that officials advised people to avoid ERs if possible, says NPR. Another is that trauma cases decreased because fewer people were on the road.
But even clinical stroke centers have seen an unprecedented drop in stroke patients being treated, with the decrease ranging from 50 to 70%. Experts worry that people are dangerously delaying treatment and that when they eventually show up in hospitals, they will be in worse shape.
Dr. Andrea Austin, an ER doctor in Los Angeles, told NPR: "I've never seen the number of delays that I have in the past month. That's really one of the tragedies of COVID-19."
Experts say they are trying to strike a balance between having Americans observe stay-at-home orders and ensuring that they receive timely care for emergency situations.
North Carolina ER physician Dr. Ryan Lamb told CBS News that people should not fear going to the hospital and said he is worried that the U.S. is seeing a lot more deaths as a result of those not seeking care in a timely fashion.
"With both distancing and masks and washing our hands, we can protect people," he said. "It's safe to come in."
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