DC deaths are up as coronavirus fears persist, but not due to COVID-19

There is a new alarming trend emerging this year in D.C.

While people have died due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people are also dying of other illnesses, because patients are hesitant to seek medical care, health leaders said.

Since the start of the pandemic, DC Health employees have been monitoring the number of deaths from non-COVID-19-related illnesses, said health department director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt.

“It’s not uncommon for jurisdictions to experience this … You want to make sure you don’t have epidemics arrive with a pandemic,” she said.

D.C. has seen a 40% increase in deaths overall as compared with January through April of last year, Nesbitt said. Of that 40%, 46% did not die from COVID-19.

So far this year, more patients have died from cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, strokes and overdoses, and it’s because patients are hesitant to seek care, Nesbitt said.

Delaying medical treatment could make a health situation worse and affect a patient’s ability to recover, as stated on DC Health’s website dedicated to the “Don’t Delay” campaign. The site lists the hospitals by ward and identifies precautions each is taking to ensure COVID-19 does not spread to patients.

However, there is data to support a decrease in patients seeking care other than their causes of death. Fewer are calling for help.

“Looking at data from Jan. 1 through April 12, there was a 29% decrease in 911 responses, a 31% decrease in heart attack and chest pain calls to 911 and about a 20% decrease in stroke cases. They didn’t just magically disappear. As a part of that, people have just stopped calling 911,” said Dr. Ronnie Robinson with the American Heart Association.

He reviewed the symptoms of a stroke and said that patients should not question whether to call 911 if they feel a tightness in their chest, shortness of breath or a loss of control of their facial muscles, for example.

“Don’t delay care; don’t die of doubt. You need to know what’s happening to your body. And you need to be able to seek preventive health services,” Nesbitt said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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