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It's safe to go to a hospital during the pandemic, but people are still afraid

While people remain at home, fearful of contracting COVID in medical settings, health officials warn that necessary check-ups and hospital visits are being postponed

WASHINGTON — The region’s hospitals may be the safest places to be during a pandemic, yet D.C. health officials said patients are putting off care, delaying doctor’s visits and ending up with potentially fatal consequences.

In a news conference this week, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said more people in the nation’s capital are now dying of treatable ailments, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as routine visits to hospitals and primary care providers fall.

While people remain at home, fearful of contracting coronavirus in medical settings, public health officials warned that necessary check-ups and hospital visits are being postponed.

“We’ve been looking at what we would consider to be excess deaths, and we’ve seen a 40% increase,” Nesbitt said, describing a rise in the mortality rate between January and May 2020. “About 54% of those deaths are related to COVID-19. But 46% of the excess deaths we’ve seen in the District are not related to COVID-19.”

RELATED: Excess deaths in DC rise 40%, as residents avoid hospitals during coronavirus pandemic

The rising 46% figure is closely associated with treatable diseases, Nesbitt said, and is spurring hospital systems to emphasize how their patients are safe from coronavirus, should they need to go to an emergency room.

“Any time that the virus has potential to be circulating in the air, we have the patient in a negative pressure room,” Dr. Terry Fairbanks, an emergency physician and head of quality and safety at MedStar Health, said. “There are only certain circumstances when the virus is freely circulating, and it requires negative pressure for protection in certain kinds of procedures.”

The specialized pressure rooms ventilate air to keep virus particles from escaping into hallways and adjoining areas.

Fairbanks said MedStar increased its count of negative pressure rooms seven-fold since January. He added that the virus wouldn’t be dangerously circulating in hospital air, to begin with, since all patients, staff, associates and visitors are required to wear masks at all times.

“That is incredibly important source control,” Fairbanks said. “Universal masking works, and it is critical to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.”

RELATED: Montgomery County hospital reports E.R. visits decline 50 percent due to coronavirus concerns

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