Every day, the number of American deaths caused by COVID-19 increases. Another number is also on the rise—that of patients who are afraid of catching the novel coronavirus and, therefore, are waiting too long to seek care.

Many have heart problems or other chronic conditions that, like COVID-19, take a disproportionate toll on Black and Latino Americans. Postponing care can compound the risk of medical complications and death—not from the coronavirus but from pre-existing conditions that are not being managed or monitored during the pandemic.

That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to symptoms and act quickly to get treatment.


Preventable non-COVID-19 deaths 

The U.S. death toll for COVID-19 is over 135,000 and growing. Researchers are reporting that COVID-19 may also be indirectly responsible for many more deaths of patients whose fear of contracting the virus kept them from getting the medical care they needed for other diseases.

These patients had not been exposed to the new coronavirus and did not have COVID-19. Instead, they had symptoms of other conditions. In ordinary times, these patients would have called a doctor or gone to a hospital emergency department. Afraid of contracting COVID-19 at a medical facility, these patients chose to wait to see if the pain, fever, or other symptoms would get better on their own.

Too often, it was the wrong choice. Some of these patients died at home after heart attacks or strokes. Others arrived at hospitals in such serious condition that treatment included days in intensive care and sometimes involved ventilators. Many of these critical interventions could have been avoided if patients sought treatment sooner.


What you should know—and do

Hospitals and physician practices are taking significant steps to keep patients as safe as possible. Patients are being screened, and often tested, for the coronavirus. Those who test positive are being separated from patients who don’t have the virus.

Medical staff are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and requiring patients to wear masks and follow social-distancing practices. Patient care areas are constantly being cleaned and disinfected, and visitors are kept to a minimum.

The bottom line: The risk of contracting COVID-19 in these facilities is less than the risk of ignoring symptoms associated with other life-threatening diseases.

If you experience these or other symptoms, instead of delaying:

  • Call 911 or head to a hospital emergency department immediately if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, stroke symptoms, a severe allergic reaction, or other potentially life-threatening symptoms.
  • Call your doctor or an urgent care center for less severe symptoms, especially if you have a chronic medical condition.
  • Don’t make light of your symptoms. Instead, be up front about what’s changed and why it concerns you.
  • Ask about telehealth options. Many symptoms can be discussed and assessed during video calls in the safety and comfort of your home. These calls can be an excellent alternative to in-person health care visits, especially if you have a condition that requires routine monitoring.