AdventHealth reports 53% drop in emergency visits last month, fear preventable deaths could increase due to COVID-19 fears

Doctors said people right now are home refusing to hop in a car and head to a local hospital because of fear they'll get the coronavirus.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Doctors said people right now are home refusing to hop in a car and head to a local hospital because of fear they'll get the coronavirus.

But putting off the critical health care can lead to preventable deaths, especially in cases of heart attack or stroke, where every minute matters.

“We are seeing higher mortality in communities not necessarily because of COVID, but because of diseases that are not going treated,” Dr. Regan Schwartz told Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones.

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Schwartz is the chairperson for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Advent Health Orlando.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 647,000 people die from heart disease each year and another 146,000 from strokes, making them among the leading causes of death in the United States.

AdventHealth officials said that it experienced a 53% decrease in emergency room visits this April, compared to last year. Heart attack cases were down 45% and strokes 30%.

“Those diseases did not just go away, so as an emergency physician, I'm really concerned that people are staying home with things that they need to be seen and treated for,” Schwartz said.

Jones asked Schwartz what he believes could be keeping people away from the hospital to get treatment for things like heart attacks and strokes, which can lead to death.

“Many of the surveys we look at show that people are actually afraid to come into our hospital because of exposure, and they're afraid they'll get COVID,” Schwartz said.

Advent Health requires temperature checks and masks for all staff and visitors.

9 Investigates has been tracking death counts during this pandemic, including pulling records from the Florida Vital Statistics Registry, which maintains records for all deaths in the state.

Going back to 2015, the average death count for March is about 18,416 deaths statewide. This year it increased to 19,662.

So far, the state has attributed 186 deaths in March to COVID-19. That leaves 1,060 deaths unaccounted for.

“It really highlights the degree of under-testing that has happened across the country because of clear shortages in the supply chain, lack of a clear strategy,” Harvard researcher Dr. Thomas Tsai said.

In April, there are 465 so-called excess deaths so far.

Looking at the data from central Florida, the average death count for March going back to 2015 is 4,232. This year it increased to 4,478, which is a difference of 246.

The state medical examiners commission reports 11 COVID-19-related deaths in March, leaving 235 excess deaths. In April, the average is 3,938. This year it spiked to 4,240. The difference is 302 deaths, but the state only reported 139 COVID-19 deaths, leaving 163 excess deaths.

Reports of COVID-19 related deaths in Florida continue to add up every day. But the total numbers of deaths from the virus could be higher than reported so far, as hundreds of deaths in March and April remain unaccounted for.