At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, emergency rooms across the Southland prepared for a patient surge.
"We had a very strong public message that, if you had a minor illness, minor injury that you should probably try to stay out of the ER," said Emergency Medicine specialist Dr. Michael Daignault with Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
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People listened. A new CDC report finds emergency department visits declined 42% in April compared to the same time last year.
"Patients that are having chest pain or shortness of breath, symptoms of a heart attack, possibly, and facial droops or slurred speech and extremity weakness, these are possible symptoms of a stroke and they are not coming to the ER for treatment for these conditions, for which we have a treatment," Daignault said.
Maria Loza of Lancaster had a heart attack, but delayed going to the ER because she was afraid.
"Just everything that's going on with the coronavirus," she said.
Daignault said it's important to seek care since doctors are just starting to discover the downstream effects of COVID-19.
"We've seen anecdotal reports across the country that young people in their 30s and 40s with no stroke risk factors were coming into the ER with strokes and they would test positive for COVID." he said.
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Daignault finds the drop in visits disheartening given COVID-19 mortality among black residents is double that of white residents.
"The death rate for African Americans is 31 deaths per 100,000 people and for our white residents, the death rate is 15 per 100,000 people, " L.A. Country Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said during a briefing.
Among the reasons, African Americans have high rates of diabetes, heart disease and other risk factors associated with more vulnerability to the virus.
"Possible explanations include lack of access, lack of insurance," Daignault said. "We see that these patients tend to wait until the last possible minute to come to the emergency room."
As for concerns about catching COVID-19, Daignault said there are more safety protocols in emergency rooms than other public places people might visit.