In the months since COVID-19 emerged to upend life as we know it, the virus has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and sickened millions more. It has shaken national economies and introduced a level of anxiety and uncertainty into daily life that many of us could never have imagined. But the casualties of coronavirus, unfortunately, aren’t just those who have been sickened or lost. The fear of coronavirus has also led untold numbers of Americans to delay or even to avoid necessary medical care.
And the long-term effects of that reality may be devastating.
There’s no question about it: COVID-19 is scary. We’re facing what is, by far, the worst global pandemic we’ve seen in more than 100 years. There’s simply no playbook for this today.
But in our panic to flee the threat of the virus, we may well be rushing into even greater dangers. Studies show that even people who are experiencing symptoms of heart attack and stroke are avoiding going to the emergency room to avoid potential exposure to the virus. Parents are putting off essential childhood immunizations for fear that their little one might get sick. Patients are even delaying life-saving cancer screenings and treatments because of the risk of COVID.
All this is perhaps not surprising, considering the high rates of community spread across the US, combined with the significantly higher risk of bad outcomes for those with compromised immune systems. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that people with underlying health conditions, as well as caregivers and relatives of those with comorbidities, are far more likely than the general population to avoid even urgent and emergency medical care.
A Little Perspective
COVID fears are understandable. We’ve all seen the terrifying images of patients struggling to breathe. We’ve all grieved the heartache of family members who’ve lost loved ones — and sometimes many loved ones. We’ve all witnessed the weary and traumatized faces of the doctors and nurses on the frontlines.
Yes, COVID fears are understandable. COVID-19 is a frighteningly contagious disease, with transmission possible during the incubation period, before symptoms appear. Because it’s genetically similar to the common cold and flu, it’s often passed through the same vectors, in respiratory droplets that can be inhaled when someone coughs, sneezes, or even speaks. Because COVID-19 is a new, or novel, pathogen, the human immune system has not yet developed the antibodies needed to fight it.
That’s the bad news. But there’s also good news. The best news is that COVID-19 is by no means a death sentence. Even for older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions, the odds that you will survive a COVID diagnosis with minimal, if any, long-term effects are very high.
In fact, in the US, the mortality rate for all COVID-19 infections is just over 4%, and that rate has steadily dropped. This applies to all patients, including the sick and the aged. This means that if you get sick, you have a greater than 95% chance of beating it. Best of all, new and better treatments are being developed every day.
And if you are under the age of 70, your chances of survival are far higher. In fact, many young and middle-aged adults experience only mild to moderate symptoms, and those symptoms might not be what you expect. While most coronavirus patients do experience respiratory symptoms, only a few suffer significant respiratory complications. Most cases include fever, perhaps some nausea and vomiting, and a temporary loss of taste and smell.
The simple fact is that COVID-19 is a disease that requires preparation and precaution, not panic. Hospitals and doctors’ offices undergo rigorous and routine cleaning and disinfection. Care providers practice meticulous hygiene and other informed best practices.
The reality is that doctors’ offices and hospitals are a far safer option, even in the age of COVID, than not receiving the medical care you need. Even something as seemingly harmless as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) could quickly spiral into a dangerous and potentially life-threatening illness without consistent and timely care.
It’s not only about ensuring you’re keeping up with your medical care. Don’t allow fear of the virus to take you away from your fitness regimen. It is still possible to get your exercise and stay physically active, even while under quarantine. It just takes a bit of creativity, such as opting for a challenging hike rather than a workout at the local gym. Who knows? You might even turn your basement or garage into your own personal crossfit studio!
COVID-19 is a frightening disease. There’s no denying that. But sometimes the fear can be the greatest threat of all. While it’s imperative to take the virus seriously, while it’s essential to practice social distancing, to mask up, and to be stringent with your hygiene, it’s not necessary to deny yourself the medical attention you need. In fact, you may well be putting yourself at greater risk when you avoid or delay your medical care. And that doesn’t just hurt you. It hurts those who love and depend on you.
Cover Image Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. The above is not meant to constitute medical advice. Contact your physician about when and whether medical care is appropriate and consider options like telehealth. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of its author and do not necessarily represent those of O&AN.