Doctors: Avoiding care due to COVID could be cause of 100,000 deaths nationwide

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives nationwide, but doctors around the country and here in the Cape Fear are saying it could indirectly be a factor in hundreds of thousands of more deaths.

“We’ll have people in the emergency room who say, ‘I don’t want to be admitted to the hospital because of COVID,'” Wilmington Health’s Dr. David Schultz said.

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Doctors in the Wilmington area say there have been around 300,000 thousand “excess deaths” nationwide in 2020, compared to years past.

“We’re not sure how much missed care we might be seeing locally yet, but we do know it’s a pretty big problem nationwide,” New Hanover Regional Medical Center Chief Physician Executive Dr. Phil Brown said.

The pandemic alone has taken more than 220,000 lives across the country so far this year.

“There are over 300,000 excess deaths in the country this year,” Brown said. “We think about 2/3 of those, or 66% are related directly to COVID-19, so the other 1/3 of them are likely related to care avoidance.”

Brown says they’ve seen people even here in the Cape Fear avoiding care for fear of getting COVID, but he says the hospital is probably the safest place you can be.

“There are all kinds of very specific safety measures that are taken to ensure patients and staff are kept safe from transmission of COVID,” Brown said. “We don’t have any documented cases in our facility of transmission within the organization, between patient and staff, or between staff and patient.”

Schultz says he’s also seen this trend. He says he saw a major drop off in visits at the start of the pandemic.

“All the usual diseases that people were coming to us with just stopped showing up,” Schultz said. “And we just all kind of shook our heads and wondered what happened to everybody.”

Schultz says it’s the people who might avoid care, who are sometimes the most at risk.

“With all the chronic conditions,” Schultz said. “Diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease. But also, they’re the ones, when they have an acute symptoms who, it could be really serious.”

Diving into flu season on top of the pandemic, the doctors encourage people to get a flu shot and take the same precautions so they don’t overwhelm the hospitals with COVID and flu cases.

“Again, it’s not the kind of thing to panic over,” Brown said. “It’s the kind of thing to really figure out and understand how to safely navigate this pandemic.”

Brown says they expect to see another spike in COVID cases in the next few weeks, and a bigger spike sometime around January. He encourages people to keep following the three W’s, to help prevent that spike in both COVID and flu cases.