Fear of This Caused Thousands of Unnecessary Deaths During The Pandemic

Coronavirus made people afraid to do this—causing many to die as a result, doctors say.

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The level at which the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the country is undeniably staggering. In addition to the economic and social toll it's taken, the virus is responsible for roughly 130,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the last data from The New York Times. But its ability to cost people their lives isn't limited to those that contract COVID-19. According to doctors and recent data analysis, thousands more died in the last few months because they were afraid to go the hospital for fear they would be exposed to coronavirus.

Data analysis conducted by The Washington Post suggests that in five states where coronavirus had been prevalent, plus New York City, there were 8,300 more deaths from heart problems in the past three months—an increase of nearly 30 percent compared with historical averages. Normally, the Post reports, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. But in the early months of the pandemic, hospitals around the country saw a significant decline in the number of patients with serious conditions like cancer, stroke, and heart disease from the amount who would usually seek treatment for those conditions. In other words, people who were seriously ill didn't seek medical care either because hospitals were overrun with patients infected with COVID-19 or they were scared to do so because they didn't want to contract the virus themselves—likely a combination of the two.

Two distraught doctors in hospital
Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

In New York City, one doctor said this collateral effect of the pandemic caused more than 50 deaths a day from heart disease. "Frankly, that would explain where all the patients went," John Puskas, MD, a cardiovascular surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, told the Post.

In separate analysis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that since Feb. 1, between 20,000 and 49,000 more people have died of all causes unrelated to COVID than during the same amount of time in a more typical year. And a recent research paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 35 percent of the thousands of "excess deaths" that occurred in March and April were caused by something else other than coronavirus, citing the potential reason of "secondary pandemic mortality caused by disruptions in society that diminished or delayed access to health care."

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"All those patients that would typically have been there having cardiovascular care were not there," Puskas told the Post. "Those who would've had emergency lifesaving care did not receive that care, and they then became one of the statistics on your chart."

With new cases continuing to spike and the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down, medical experts hope to take what they've learned from the first wave of the pandemic to better prepare as we face the second, possibly more powerful, second wave.

"This data underlines the importance of not letting our health systems get to the point where they are so overwhelmed that it spills over and affects people with other medical conditions in our community," Nahid Bhadelia, MD, medical director of Boston University School of Medicine's Special Pathogens Unit, told the Post. "This is in line with what we were scared of happening: that we were missing people beforehand and that people were dying of other diseases." And for more on the resurgence of coronavirus, check out This Terrifying New Statistic Shows How Quickly COVID-19 Is Spreading.

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