Another unintended consequence of our COVID-19 response: People avoiding healthcare altogether

coronavirus researcher

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Nearly four in 10 Virginians said they have put off going to the doctor since March, and one in 10 won’t be going back until there a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

This from a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy for the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.

The finding comes a day after a study led by a VCU researcher found that a third of the excess deaths recorded between March 1 and Aug. 1 were unintended consequences of the government response to COVID-19, as millions of Americans have put off cancer screenings and treatments, treatments for chronic ailments, even avoiding seeking care for strokes and heart attacks.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order in March directing Virginia hospitals to stop performing non-emergency medical procedures. The order was lifted on May 1, but Virginia hospitals and healthcare providers have reported continued dramatic declines in patient volumes.

The impact on public health is being seen already in the excess death totals noted in the VCU study, and the impact on the bottom lines of hospitals is also pronounced.

A report from the VHHA last week projects $3 billion in losses for Virginia hospitals by year’s end.

The Mason-Dixon poll shows broad public support for government reimbursements to hospitals. Sixty-six percent back government reimbursements to hospitals for COVID-19-related expenses, and 81 percent support congressional approval of additional pandemic relief funds for healthcare providers.

Virginia hospitals have asked state leaders for $219 million in relief aid from the more than $3 billion CARES Act allocation provided to the Commonwealth. That request reflects expenses hospitals incurred this spring that are directly related to the COVID-19 response, making them eligible for CARES Act reimbursement.

Other poll findings

  • Eighty-eight percent said they take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously (71 percent said “very seriously,” 17 percent said “somewhat seriously”).
  • Sixty-five percent of people said they know someone who has contracted the virus, one-third (34 percent) know someone who has become seriously ill or died as a result.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said they know someone who has lost a job due to the pandemic.
  • More than nine in 10 people (94 percent) say they practice social distancing, with 73 percent of that group indicating they are “very consistent” about it, and 17 percent saying they are “somewhat consistent.”
  • Nearly nine out of 10 people (89 percent) said they wear masks in public, with 82 percent of that group saying they “always” wear masks in public and 14 percent saying they wear masks “most of the time.”
  • Among those who don’t wear mask regularly, the most frequently cited reasons are non-use when outdoors (42 percent), skepticism about whether masks are helpful (27 percent), personal freedom concerns (12 percent), discomfort (12 percent), and personal medical condition (6 percent).
  • More people (71 percent) say they plan to get a flu shot this year, compared to about two-thirds (65 percent) of people who said they got a flu shot last year. Twenty-seven percent of people said they are more likely to get a flu shot this year with COVID-19 still present alongside flu season.
  • One-third (35 percent) said they are “very likely” to get vaccinated when a COVID-19 becomes available, while 17 percent said they are “somewhat likely,” compared to 26 percent who are “very unlikely” and 12 percent who are “somewhat unlikely.” The most commonly cited reasons for reluctance about a vaccination are hesitance about being among the first people to get it (38 percent), a belief the virus isn’t that dangerous (22 percent), a lack of trust in government and the scientific community (20 percent), and doubts that it will be effective (12 percent).

Story by Chris Graham


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