Turnabout is always fair play. As a new narrative spins up about the political price President Trump needs to pay for COVID-19 related deaths, I have a different question. What price should the corporate media play for preventable non-COVID-19 related deaths among those who are too scared to seek care because of the panic they have created?
It seems if someone dies, the only thing that matters is whether not they had COVID-19 in their system at the time. Yet doctors nationally are sounding the alarm about the unintended public health consequences of the shutdown and the risks associated with significant reductions in healthcare utilization. There will be an increase in death and disability that accompanies this media-fueled fear and any history of this pandemic should include their role in the negative consequences.
Dr. Erickson and Dr. Massihi of Accelerated Urgent Care in southern California held a press conference to express their concerns. The visits to their clinics have dropped dramatically with the shutdown. They even highlighted the fact that their capacity to test for COVID-19 is only being utilized at about 50% because patients are too worried about exposure to come in for testing.
In an opinion piece for Fox News, Dr. Manny Alvarez notes the procedure delays and routine medical care that were stifled during the epidemic. He asserts that priority should be placed on restoring these services as soon as possible. He notes that up to 42 percent of solo medical practices have laid off workers and that 20 percent of independent practices may be lost. Access to primary care physicians is critical for public health and these losses will cut deeply.
Today, emergency room physician Dr. Daniel G. Murphy chimed in. His perspective as a doctor on the frontlines of the epidemic that hit the Bronx should carry more weight than a talking head at CNN. However, he would likely not be invited on as a guest.
He asserts that the decline in new COVID-19 patients was an abrupt and noticeable event. His clinical experience tells him this had more to do with the natural course of the outbreak that the lockdown. That would not be a permissible opinion. Dr. Murphy also notes the uptick in the number of people dying at home, which he believes is due to non-COVID-19 related causes:
A large share of those staying home surely have emergency medical and surgical conditions not related to the novel coronavirus. The growing numbers dying at home during this crisis must include fatal myocardial infarctions, asthma exacerbations, bacterial infections and strokes.
This is accompanied by declines in pediatric visits, missed vaccines and a significant decline in 911 medical emergencies which all have a negative impact on public health. Then he really goes full apostate when he says:
Finally, COVID-19 is more prevalent than we think. Many New Yorkers already have the COVID-19 infection, whether they are aware of it or not. As of today, over 43 percent of those tested are positive in The Bronx. We are developing a significant degree of natural herd immunity. Distancing works, but I am skeptical that it is playing as predominant a role as many think.
He will definitely not be asked to appear on MSNBC.
This is despite health experts having grave concerns over the number of canceled well-child visits due to parent fears during the pandemic. And Texas oncologists sounding the alarm about cancer screenings missed due to restrictions during the pandemic and fear of going to the doctor’s office. And while chemotherapy was still permitted to be given, patients are skipping appointments or having them canceled due to fears of contracting the virus.
This does not account for the impact of missed routine care and screening for people with chronic illnesses. How many angiograms will not find an arterial blockage? How many patients are suffering from unneeded pain and immobility due to fear of seeing their orthopedic surgeon?
A dancer in New York made headlines because of an amputation credited to a COVID-19 related clot. Will the diabetic who leaves a foot ulcer untreated due to COVID-19 fear and loses a leg get the same coverage? Of course not. You only need to know about the other to make it clear bad things can happen to anyone who gets COVID-19. It is designed to make the infinitesimal number of young and healthy people who become seriously ill or die with COVID-19 seem like the norm.
Even in my own community, we are seeing these effects. Dentists are canceling routine appointments. A friend who works in a neurologist’s office has been cut to two days a week due to a drop in office visits. Her husband, who works in radiology, is seeing a lot of “presumed COVID-19” notations on patient charts. He is not seeing a lot of confirmed tests or what he calls “obvious and unique changes to lung scans” accompanying the diagnosis. He believes this is because hospital utilization is so low that facilities are seeking the full payment from insurance companies and government programs associated with a COVID-19 diagnosis. And the parking lots in front of our local pediatrician and other medical offices are near empty every time you drive by.
So, the media is asking if President Trump should be held accountable for deaths related to COVID-19. This is despite an unprecedented mobilization of public and private resources through the Coronavirus Task Force and early actions to ban travel from hot spots. No politician should pay a political price for a virus we knew very little about forced on the globe by China’s Communist Party. Not Trump, the nation’s governors or local officials of any party. They are all building the plane while they a flying it.
However, I have no problem blaming the fear-mongering corporate media for deaths related to people avoiding healthcare services. The malpractice of misrepresenting the risks of COVID-19 to broad majorities of the population will have untold negative effects on the public health. Whether it is a measles outbreak because of avoided vaccination visits or the patient who ends up severely ill with peritonitis because they didn’t seek care before their appendix burst, it is all based on an outsize panic created by the media desperate to oppose this administration all costs.
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