Would your blood pressure be too high? Would your child cry at the shots? Would Fido bark at a cat in the waiting room?

Even getting a cavity filled is more difficult now that concern over the coronavirus influences every decision leave the house.

Anxiety is keeping adults and children alike out of medical offices, leading doctors to worry that people aren’t taking care of their non-coronavirus illnesses and prompting pediatricians to express concern over dropping numbers of vaccinated children.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “notable decrease” in the number of vaccines ordered through a federal program that immunizes half of all kids in the country, the agency said Friday. “As social distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable to diseases such as measles,” the CDC’s Dr. Jeanne Santoli and colleagues stated last week.
People are staying away from the hospital, too, even when they shouldn’t — such as in the case of a heart attack, stroke or other emergency. The American Heart Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians and other major medical groups joined together in late April to urge people to still call 911 and go to the hospital.

Avoiding the doctor’s office and the hospital due to fears of coronavirus could be deadly. You can still get to some of your most common medical appointments with protections to keep everyone as safe as possible.

How to visit the (grownup) doctor

First call your doctor to discuss your condition. Some concerns can be addressed over the phone, but you won’t know if you don’t call.

“For chronic medical issues or for issues that really are non-urgent, we also encourage patients to call their doctors first,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, an Atlanta psychiatrist and president of the American Medical Association.

While some conditions may be diagnosed easily through a telehealth appointment to avoid a medical office, some chronic health conditions may require an in-person visit for an in-person exam, blood work or X-rays.

How to visit the pediatrician

Children got into scrapes that required visits to the pediatrician before the pandemic. Skateboard accidents and bike falls are still occurring, coronavirus or not.

But kids who spending more time at home are also getting into more trouble at home, including accidental poisonings due to the powerful chemicals people are using to clean their homes to kill the virus.

“Kids are getting into things while parents are trying to work,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician at Georgia’s Children’s Medical Group. “The supervision may not be the same during the day, and everyone’s a little bit off their routine.” Poison control is still available by phone and online throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Many pediatricians are now offering telemedicine appointments, meaning a trip to the doctor’s may not be necessary.

If you have a hospital emergency, head to the children’s hospital first if there’s one in your area. They are less likely to be crowded with Covid-19 patients.

Lots of parents are delaying vaccines, and that’s not a good idea for children 2 years old and under, Dr. Shu said. Regular checkups and early vaccines protect against measles, polio and diphtheria and other life-threatening diseases. Some vaccines for older children can be delayed a bit but consult your doctor to be sure.

How to visit the hospital

If you’re struggling to breathe or having a heart attack or stroke, you or your loved one should call 911 and get an ambulance or get to the hospital immediately. Despite an influx of Covid-19 patients, hospital staff are concerned about the cases they are not seeing anymore.

If you think you might need to head to the hospital but feel well enough to call your primary care doctor, do so. “Patients shouldn’t need to make decisions alone about whether their problem is urgent or emergent,” said Harris, the AMA president.

“Please don’t let the pandemic stop you from reaching out to your physician,” Harris said. “You don’t want symptoms to go unreviewed and then turn out to be worse later.”

Getting to the dentist

Putting off the dentist may be your best option right now. The CDC recommends that dentists should put off “elective procedures, surgeries and non-urgent dental visits,” allowing only emergency visits for now. That’s because the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration includes dental health-care providers in the “very high exposure risk” category.
Even recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) don’t fully protect people against tools considered routine in dentistry that can send droplets of saliva through the air (and potentially carry the virus).

Emergencies include a fractured tooth, swelling or pain that can’t be managed without over-the-counter medications, said dentist Matthew Messina, the clinic director at Ohio State Upper Arlington Dentistry and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

The increased risk means it’s critical to take care of your teeth throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and to see providers only in case of real emergencies.

Visit the veterinarian

The advice is the same for animals as humans: Start with a call to your veterinarian to see if your visit can be handled via phone call or telehealth; note that laws differ by state, and some vets aren’t allowed to offer telehealth.

If you must go in, you might not actually go with your pet into the office.

Rabies shots, kitten and puppy vaccines and emergency visits are all considered essential care, but pet owners should still call their vets’ offices first.

“We’ve numbered the parking lots at all the hospitals and we’ll tell clients to pull in space one, space two, space three. When they’ve done that, they call us and one of the technicians goes out with gloves and a mask and brings the pet into the clinic,” Atlanta veterinarian Will Draper told CNN.

“Then we will either video conference with them while they’re in the car or just call them on the phone and discuss what we’ve found and our recommendations for their pet.”

Want to go someplace else?

After all of those appointments, where else do you need to go? We know not everyone can stay home, but the best way to curb the spread of Covid-19 is to do so when possible.

That’s true even now that many US states are starting to reopen. But if you must go out, read CNN’s Scottie Andrew’s piece on how to go restaurants, beaches and parks, gyms, salons, airports and polling places.

CNN’s Sandee LaMotte, Kristen Rogers, Ryan Prior, Maggie Fox, Jacqueline Howard and Jen Rose Smith contributed to this story.

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