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California hospitals saw sharp drop in heart attacks during COVID-19 shutdown

Michael Finch II, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

"There's no intervention that we're aware of that could drop the true incidence of heart attacks by this much," Solomon said. "In other national emergencies like earthquakes or terrorist attacks, heart attack rates go up due to fear and anxiety. And there's a ton of fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic."

Some local emergency medical service providers said the trend is consistent with what they've seen locally but not everyone agreed. Emergency transport volume for some was higher during the pandemic than in previous years.

Sacramento County, for example, experienced a modest decline in heart attack transports in February -- about 23 fewer than in 2019 -- but the volume outpaced the previous years in March and April, according to data provided to The Bee.

There was no significant decrease in trauma cases either and only a moderate decline in the number of strokes in April. Since January, however, there were about 10% more stroke transports this year compared to 2019.

"These numbers are based on our EMS transports and not what the hospitals are seeing," said David Mangino, administrator for Sacramento County's Emergency Medical Services Agency "Those are the three data elements that we watched because they are our critical patients."

Kristin Weivoda, administrator for Yolo County's Emergency Medical Services Agency, said they have also seen a decrease in demand for emergency transports, mirroring the trend found in the Kaiser Permanente study. She said local hospitals are seeing it, too.

Early in the COVID-19 response people were discouraged from calling 911 if they have symptoms of the flu or a cold that could be the coronavirus, Weivoda said. The general public may have interpreted those early warnings as a need to stay away from the hospitals because they may get sick, she said.

 

Those decisions could have unintended consequences just as harmful as COVID-19.

"We're trying to protect people from COVID-19, but because of the fear that people aren't utilizing 911 and they're avoiding symptoms that they have and should be seeking medical attention for," Weivoda said.

"Across the state of California we're seeing an uptick in secondary mortality because people aren't addressing their disease or an emergent disease that could be corrected if they were addressed in a timely manner."

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