Emergency department visits for life-threatening conditions including heart attacks dropped in the 10 weeks following the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, according to an analysis published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Visits dropped 23 percent for heart attacks, 20 percent for strokes and 10 percent for uncontrolled high blood sugar, according to the report.
“The substantial reduction in [emergency department] visits for these life-threatening conditions might be explained by many pandemic-related factors including fear of exposure to COVID-19, unintended consequences of public health recommendations to minimize non-urgent health care, stay-at-home orders, or other reasons,” the authors of the report wrote.
It is “biologically implausible” or unlikely for visits to decline because fewer people are experiencing heart attacks, strokes or high blood sugar, they wrote.
“The finding suggests that patients with these conditions either could not access care or were delaying or avoiding seeking care during the early pandemic period,” the authors wrote.
While many states ordered hospitals to postpone nonurgent care in the early days of the pandemic to preserve resources, heart attacks, strokes and high blood sugar do not fall into that category.
These are common life-threatening conditions that require urgent attention, the authors wrote.
“The sooner emergency care begins, the better are the chances for survival. Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency care can and should be accessed and provided without delay,” they wrote.
The authors note that higher than normal death rates recorded during the pandemic are likely to be partially attributed to people not seeking care for life-threatening conditions.
They wrote that “clear, frequent, highly visible communication” needs to come from public health and health care professionals to reinforce the importance of seeking care for medical emergencies. Emergency departments also need to stress that they are following infection control deadlines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within hospitals, they said.