Skip to content
Opinion
The Editors

Covid-19 Is Causing More Than One Health Crisis

To save uncounted lives, doctors and hospitals must cautiously get back to business.

Ordinary health care is on hold.

Ordinary health care is on hold.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

So many ordinary activities have been put on hold in the time of coronavirus, but one stands out as an especially punishing loss: People have sharply curtailed their non-Covid health care — not just easily postponed checkups, but also tumor removals, diabetes tests, prenatal visits, kidney transplants, vaccines, even emergency care after heart attacks. Since early March, in-person doctor visits have fallen about 60% in the U.S. Cancer screenings have dropped 86% to 94%. And until recently many hospitals were turning away all patients except those with Covid-19, often by order of state officials.

Epidemiologists assume that the pause in non-Covid health care accounts for an as-yet-unmeasured share of the tens of thousands of “excess deaths” that have happened in the past couple of months in the U.S. This is a danger in any epidemic; during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-16, increased deaths from measles, malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis ultimately exceeded deaths from Ebola.