Hidden death toll: Doctors say people dying as they avoid ERs due to COVID fears

A pandemic doesn’t stop heart attacks, strokes, serious falls and seizures, says Dr. Alan Drummond

Health-care providers are warning of an unseen toll COVID-19 could take if people die because they are too afraid to go to an emergency room for serious health issues unrelated to the pandemic.

“There’s going to be secondary harm. Make no mistake,” said Dr. Alan Drummond with the Canadian Federation of Emergency Physicians.

“To what extent has this been happening? We don’t know. It will probably only be quantified after the fact. Then we will start to get a sense of the hidden costs of this pandemic.”

There have been major changes in health-care delivery to prepare for an expected surge of people ill with COVID-19. Doctors are connecting with patients virtually, elective surgeries are being cancelled or delayed, and hospitals are reallocating staff.

That has created more capacity to care for infected patients, but Drummond emphasizes it has also ensured that everyday health-care emergencies can still be treated.

A pandemic doesn’t stop heart attacks, strokes, serious falls and seizures, said Drummond, who works in Perth, Ont. Yet many people who would normally visit a doctor to check what could be serious symptoms are choosing not to seek help, he said.

Drummond said doctors are noticing that emergency rooms across the country are quieter and, when people do come in, too often the situation is already dire.

“I lost the battle to save a patient last night because they waited too long to come to the hospital,” Dr. Jeff Shaw, a cardiologist in Calgary, posted on Twitter earlier this week.

“I know there is a lot of fear of hospitals now and concern about being turned away. If you are sick and need help, hospitals are safe and are ready to look after you.”

Drummond said physicians have told him about patients who finally do come to hospital and say they are worried about catching COVID-19. They also voice two other concerns.

“They are scared to death and they are panic-stricken about … coming to the emergency department and placing an unnecessary burden on the emergency health system or … are worried they may be inadvertently transmitting COVID to staff despite the screening efforts.”

Health officials in British Columbia reminded people in a daily briefing this week that it’s safe to go to a hospital, get diagnostic tests and call 911 for urgent medical care. They noted there were about 3,600 emergency room visits on Tuesday, down from more than 6,500 on March 9.

“It is safe to go to the hospital, and there will be people there to help you,” urged B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, echoed the concern in one of his briefings. He said colleagues are telling him that patients are feeling apprehensive about getting the help they need and show up at a hospital when the situation is already critical.

“I really want to make it clear to Manitobans that our hospitals, our health-care systems, are safe to utilize,” Roussin said.

Quebec’s health department has also said there is a significant decline in its emergency department traffic.

Hospitals are safe and people should call their physician or 911 if they are concerned something is wrong, Drummond said.

He understands that can be scary when the world around us has changed so drastically because of the pandemic. But the longer someone waits for treatment, the more serious the outcome can be. Too often, he said, the delay can be deadly.

“We don’t want people dying out of a false sense of contribution to the greater societal good.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quesnel RCMP Crime Reduction Unit making a big impact

The focus of the Unit is to target drug, property, and prolific offenders in the community

B.C. government eyes antlerless moose harvest increase in bid to save caribou

Antlerless moose hunts reduce predation for threatened mountain caribou, says ministry

City pre-approves temporary expanded service areas for all liquor primary and manufacturer establishments

The initiative will support businesses required to be at 50 per cent capacity due to COVID-19

UPDATE: Williams Lake RCMP suspend search overnight for suspect on the run

Public asked to keep eye out for suspicous activity

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Racist incident shocks Vancouver Island First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP investigating after video shows truck wheeling through Tseshaht territory

Vancouver Island school principal mourns brother, cousin killed during U.S. protests

Jelks says he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this tragedy

Bank of Canada keeps key interest rate target on hold at 0.25%

Central bank now expects GDP to decline between 10 and 20 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2019

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

B.C. schools see 30% of expected enrolment as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Most Read