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EDITORIAL: Staying at home can carry a high medical price tag

Updated June 11, 2020 - 9:05 pm

The debate about whether coronavirus lockdowns did more harm than good is well underway. But there can be little disputing that the stay-at-home recommendations created their own set of problems.

It’s no secret that many Americans, fearful of the pandemic, have put off or neglected necessary medical care over the past three months. A group of more than 600 doctors recently argued in a letter to President Donald Trump that the country is facing a “mass casualty incident” thanks to the unchecked progression of various diseases — including cancer — as people sheltered at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Nearly half of Americans say the outbreak has forced them or someone in their household to delay care, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll,” Sally C. Pipes, a health care policy fellow with the Pacific Research Institute, noted this week. More than “10 percent of those reporting delays said their or their family member’s condition worsened because of the delay.”

A New York Times op-ed estimates that the virus death toll may be lower than the number who perish because they shunned the doctor. Statistics “demonstrate that people with cancer are missing necessary screenings,” Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic of the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Gianrico Farrugiaand of the Mayo Clinic wrote this week. “Those with heart attack or stroke symptoms are staying home during the precious window of time when the damage is reversible.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency room visits across the country dropped 42 percent in late March and April when compared with 2019 — and that includes the increased number of patients arriving with respiratory ailments during the pandemic. The trend has not let up in recent weeks even as state’s begin to reopen.

In Las Vegas on Wednesday, local officials and health care providers held a news conference to assure Southern Nevadans that it is safe to seek medical care even as virus cases continue to accumulate, and that those with chronic conditions who avoid the doctor often risk serious and even fatal complications.

“We know people might be scared and afraid to go visit their physician or hospital provider,” said Claude Wise, CEO of Valley Hospital Medical Center. ” But we are safe. We are ready.”

Regulatory relief that allowed more patients and doctors to consult via telemedicine provided some means for sheltered patients to receive care, but that will only modestly limit the damage. “The novel coronavirus will not go away soon,” Dr. Mihaljevic and Dr. Farrugiaand note, “but its systemic side effects of fear and deferred care must.”

If you have or believe you have a serious medical issue, seek care. Avoiding the coronavirus need not entail ignoring potentially dangerous health symptoms.

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