Some people are showing up in local emergency rooms after experiencing chest pains for many hours, or abdominal pains that have lasted for days. Over concerns about COVID-19, they’re ignoring symptoms that demand immediate attention, putting themselves at greater risk, experts say.
“Waiting isn’t smart,” Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Michael Lauf said in a recent news conference. “We don’t want to see people adversely impacted” by ignoring symptoms or putting off care for chronic medical conditions, he said. “Please monitor your health care.”
The virus has clearly been the focus of attention for public health officials, Barnstable County Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien said recently, “but regular life issues happen.” People should feel comfortable calling their doctor about health concerns, or visiting an emergency room or calling 911 if they have medical emergencies. “It doesn’t need to be COVID right now,” he said.
On Cape Cod and even statewide, there is plenty of hospital capacity, but hospitals are reporting a decline in patients seeking treatments for cardiac concerns and other potentially serious problems, Gov. Charlie Baker said on April 21.
“People should still call their doctor to talk about their own health,” and get treatment when needed, he said. Some concerns can be addressed by virtual consultations with doctors, but when visits to health care facilities are called for, people shouldn’t hesitate.
“Please, use the system,” Baker said. Health care providers and government officials have worked hard to ensure that the health care system remains up and running for ordinary health concerns unrelated to COVID-19, he said. “That’s what all this preparation was all about,” he said.
Likewise, people who need emergency care shouldn’t hesitate to call 911. Local fire departments are not reporting any unusual surge in medical calls, and ambulances and equipment are carefully cleaned and sanitized between each response. Emergency medical workers are typically temperature-checked at the start of each shift and have ready access to coronavirus testing. People who call 911 for help should expect to be asked a series of questions designed to determine whether they have symptoms of COVID-19. But the precautions don’t mean that people should hesitate to call in an emergency.
Reports of people delaying care prompted Cape Cod Healthcare to issue public service announcements urging people not to wait to get treatment.
“We’re grateful that many of you have stayed at home and taken precautions to protect yourself and your families from COVID-19. Unfortunately, our doctors and caregivers are seeing people in need of medical services who are not seeking help and waiting too long to get care,” the announcement reads. “This could have significant long-term effects and create a second wave of crisis after the pandemic has subsided.”
Thanks to rigorous infection control procedures made even more rigorous during the pandemic, “the hospital’s safe,” O’Brien said.
Lauf said he understands that people might be afraid to leave home or to visit the hospital, or might think health care providers are too busy to see them now.
“The environment here is very safe and people shouldn’t wait too long,” he said. If you need emergency or urgent care, need to manage your chronic condition or need important tests, it is critical to call your doctor, he said.