Did COVID-19 Fears Lead to Fewer Stroke Admissions?

Hospital admissions for stroke fell by nearly a third during March and April 2020 alone when compared with those months in 2019.

While it will take time to assess the full spectrum of effects, the impacts of COVID-19 mass quarantine measures on other public health outcomes have begun to register in hospital data.

Utilization of the health system is down in general. Childhood vaccination rates have plummeted, for example, along with cancer screenings.

According to a study team publishing in Stroke and Vascular Neurology, hospital admissions for stroke fell by nearly a third during March and April 2020 alone when compared with those months in 2019.

It is believed that at the peak of lockdown policies, many patients underused emergency services or avoided the medical system altogether due to fear of SARS-CoV-2.

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In order to examine the phenomenon in the context of stroke, the study team retrospectively compared total weekly hospital admissions, including transfers, in cities with COVID-19 outbreaks during the first wave of the US pandemic: New York City, Boston, Seattle, and Providence.

Pandemic data were compared with data from 2018-2019.

The team also used available data on emergency department stroke alerts.

Analysis of the results showed that compared with the same period in 2018-19, stroke admissions as well as emergency department stroke alerts fell. The declines coincided with stay-at-home recommendations introduced in late March.

The most substantive fall in stroke admissions took place between March 23 and April 19 2020, when there were 281 in total, compared with 410 total in the same period of 2019.

"Our findings underscore the indirect effects of this pandemic. Public health officials, hospital systems and healthcare providers must continue to encourage patients with stroke to seek acute care during this crisis,” study authors wrote.