How mayors can help residents keep up care for non-COVID ailments

While COVID-19 is what’s on everyone’s mind at the moment, other medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes are still killing Americans every day.

In fact, public-health leaders are concerned that those ailments are contributing to a rising death toll as people experiencing chest pains or other potentially serious symptoms stay home to avoid the coronavirus rather than heading to emergency rooms.

Hospitals are reporting a sudden dropoff in patients coming in for heart problems, appendicitis, infected gall bladders and other conditions that usually keep ER doctors busy. Meanwhile, a number of cities are reporting spikes in deaths at home. Public health leaders say these lives lost are likely a mix of people with COVID-19 and people dying from other acute conditions.

Mayors can help reverse this trend, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We’re not as worried as we were before about overwhelming the healthcare system,” Sharfstein told mayors last week during an online coaching and learning session of the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative. “It’s really important for people to seek care for chest pain and other ailments.

“Mayors, especially, are going to have to start sending that message. Before we were saying, ‘stay home as much as possible.’ Now, if people have serious symptoms, it’s important to emphasize that they seek care.”

Sharfstein, a pediatrician by training, relayed to mayors an additional concern about child vaccinations.

“Many clinics are open, but they’re seeing that families do not want to come in,” he said. “That raises the risk of potentially serious outbreaks as people start going back out. Work with your local pediatric community to emphasize the importance of maintaining that immunization schedule — it’s just a few months between shots for little babies. And delaying could lead to serious infections like whooping cough.”

Sharfstein and other professors from Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities are answering city leaders COVID-related questions on an ongoing basis. Find a full list of questions and answers here.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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