The Harvard Gazette interviews Dr. Druv Kazi, director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Cardiac Critical Care Unit and associate director of the hospital’s Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology about a new study that suggests a number of the 5,000 extra deaths Massachusetts has seen over the past two months were not caused directly by Covid-19 but by other conditions people put off going to the hospital for because of Covid-19 concerns.
In March and April, Kazi, reports, the hospital saw a 33% decrease in heart attack patients and 58% drop in stroke patients.
Based on the heart attack and stroke data that we just discussed, it’s very clear that there are patients who are having heart attacks and strokes and deciding to sit it out. They are either presenting to the hospital late - and not eligible for some of the very effective therapies for cardiovascular conditions that must be administered early on - or they may have died at home. We know from data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Massachusetts has had approximately 5,000 excess deaths since the pandemic started. Many of these are due to the pandemic itself, and some may be undiagnosed COVID-19 cases, but my hunch is that many of those deaths are from undiagnosed cardiovascular conditions, like heart attacks and strokes, where people decided to sit out the symptoms and it didn’t work out well.
Kazi acknowledged many people were afraid to come to Boston hospitals for fear of contracting Covid-19 and said hospitals need to do a better job communicating that they remained safe even at the height of the surge, because they took immediate steps to segregate potential Covid-19 patients from other patients.
Let’s be clear about this - staying at home and “flattening the curve” in Boston saved lives. We have the luxury in Boston of having numerous world-class hospitals, and each of the big hospitals more than doubled their critical care capacity. In hindsight, the early outbreak in the beginning of March may have pushed us all to prepare well in advance, yet, even with the flattened curve, most hospitals got pretty close to being full during the peak of the pandemic. So, I don’t interpret our findings to mean that we shouldn’t have locked down or shouldn’t have sheltered in place. Far from it. Even our hospitals with all of their spare capacity would have been completely overwhelmed if we had had the same numbers as New York. But I think we could have done a better job communicating about emergencies. And that’s a job that’s not finished.
Gov. Baker began urging residents with non-Covid conditions to get to an ER in mid-April.