Minnesota’s Border Battles: COVID-19 edition
Last year, we released a report titled ‘Minnesota’s Border Battles‘ in which we compared the economic outcomes in Minnesota counties bordering other states with the outcomes in the border counties…
Before lockdowns were instated and hospitals repositioned to focus on COVID-19, warnings were issued on the potential economic, mental, social, and health consequences of instating lockdowns. These predictions have become true.
According to Federal data, there has been an increase in the number of deaths attributed to other illnesses like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The number of deaths for these illnesses has been higher than normal. This is a combination of a couple of factors. Among other things, people were scared to seek medical help and hospitals had shut down other services and were prioritizing Covid-19 treatment.
But the biggest spike has been on the number of deaths caused by heart conditions.
The analysis suggests that in five hard-hit states and New York City there were 8,300 more deaths from heart problems than would have been typical in March, April and May — an increase of roughly 27 percent over historical averages.
This has been largely attributed to the fact that patients had stopped seeking care. Another explanation may be the fact that some hospitals had paused “elective” life-saving procedures in order to focus on COVID-19 related procedures.
Normally, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. But in the early months of the pandemic, some hospital departments were nearly devoid of the heart, cancer, stroke and other patients who populated them before
But several experts said the spikes in the causes of death in the new Post analysis suggested a deadly collateral effect of the pandemic. They said the surge in deaths from heart disease and several other conditions matches what they saw in clinics and hospitals and confirms their fears that many patients died after not seeking care.
However, this is just the beginning. The nation is still at risk of more deaths due to the delays that have been placed on other sectors of the medical system.
The head of the National Cancer Institute, Norman “Ned” Sharpless, predicted on June 18 that delays in cancer screenings, diagnoses and treatment during the pandemic are likely to result in “thousands” of excess cancer deaths in years to come.
Unfortunately, medical conditions are not the only thing contributing to spiking excess deaths. According to the National Drug Control Policy, the country has seen an increase in opioid-overdose related deaths which can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation. People with substance use disorder need to feel connectedness with others as well as themselves to overcome the problem. Isolation, loneliness, and the anxiety and depression associated with quarantines, lockdowns, and the resultant economic dislocations are the opposite of what people suffering from addiction require.
Disruptions in the medical system have also contributed to this trend.
But it should not go without notice that many chronic pain patients have been unable to follow up with their physicians, whose offices have been closed (or office hours restricted) in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And many elective procedures to treat or eliminate these painful conditions have been postponed or cancelled because of blanket bans on elective procedures. This was discussed at a Cato online event in May. In desperation, many patients might be seeking relief in the dangerous black market fueled by drug prohibition.
This is definitely an unfortunate trend of events but nonetheless easily predictable. Closing a country altogether in order to prevent Covid-19 deaths does not automatically stop deaths caused by other factors. Quite to the contrary, disruptions placed on health services compounded with economic downturns are more likely to lead to higher than normal deaths from those other causes. And that is what we are seeing now.