Patients in need of emergency care are avoiding hospitals due to COVID-19, doctors say

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Many hospital emergency rooms and clinics throughout the country are seeing a huge reduction of patients partly due to the fear of the COVID-19 virus.

Some hospitals have even started laying off emergency room personnel.

Less physical activity during the shutdown means fewer accidents that require an ER visit.

But for people who show early signs of strokes and heart disease, doctors told FOX40 that they are putting themselves at risk even more by staying away from hospitals.

At Sutter Health’s two dozen hospitals, doctors and nurses check emergency room patients for the virus as soon as they go through the doors, testing all with possible symptoms.

“Until the tests come back, positive or negative, we take all the precautions to safeguard the patients,” Sutter Health’s Dr. Manoj Mittal told FOX40.

Doctors not only say hospitals are safe, but there’s a certain danger in waiting to seek medical help, especially when confronted with symptoms patients are not familiar with.

A stroke can be deadly but Dr. Mittal, who is a brain specialist, said there are proven recovery treatments if caught in time. He said, along with the fear of the virus, some downplay symptoms like numbness, loss of balance, slurred speech or muscle weakness.

“They feel like COVID-19 patients should take priority to go to the hospital,” explained Mittal.

Stroke treatment is so time-sensitive that there is protocol in emergency rooms ensuring patients receive brain scans and medicines within an hour. Ignoring early symptoms can mean a more massive stroke later on that can even be fatal.

There is also a concern that people are no longer coming to emergency rooms where heart attacks can be diagnosed.

“It’s possible that people have mild chest pain,” said Mittal. “They might not go to the emergency room, thinking, ‘Hey, this might be anxiety or stress.’”

Many medical professionals are urging to err on the side of caution when faced with the unknown. 

There is a national trend of fewer stroke patients being seen in emergency rooms in recent months. Some patients may be ignoring signs of a minor stroke but there are also indications that there are lower incidents of the flu with social distancing in place, and the flu has been linked as a possible trigger to strokes.

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