Megan Miedema is a mother of two in Chicago. In October, she started to feel lower back pain but was hesitant to go to the doctor. She concerned about getting COVID-19 and bringing it back home.

“If you want to a healthcare facility, obviously, there are, you know, many people in the hospital,” Miedema says. “I feel like it would be a place which i wouldn’t want to go. There’s just a heightened risk for COVID.”

When the pain sensation became unbearable, Miedema finally made a scheduled appointment. She was identified as having shingles, the herpes virus that causes a painful rash.

“They can’t really do a lot to treat shingles,” Miedema says. “What they are doing is that they place you on antiviral. And I think since i had delayed going, I didn’t catch it in no time. The antiviral didn’t really help and… it was pretty painful.”

Megan Miedema delayed visiting the doctor from fear of bringing COVID-19 back to her family. She was later diagnosed with shingles.


Many Americans are making similar choices. A September report by the CDC found that by June, about 40 % of adults delayed or avoided medical care due to COVID concerns. This lines up with data from the start of the pandemic – when there is a 23 percent decline in ER visits for heart attacks and a 20 percent decline for strokes.

But doctors say it is important for patients to stay along with health care – even amid the current COVID surge.

Dr. Bernard Richard, a principal care physician in Greenfield, Indiana, has seen patients delay health care for strokes, heart attacks and cancer.

“Wellness exams are important,” Richard says. “These are the exams where we do the items such as pap smears, that really help prevent cervical cancer. It is now time where we all do those breast exams and order those mammograms and perform the colon cancer and prostate cancer screening.”

Richard says some patients don't want to overwhelm the healthcare system while frontline workers are fighting COVID.

Dr. Bernard Richard

Riann Gates resides in Indianapolis together with her 18-month old son. She's delayed non-essential wellness appointments.

“I know health professionals are very overwhelmed right now,” Gates says. “And I’ve seen that and that i just realize that, if what I’m going in for isn't a necessity, then it’s just not needed right now.”

Gates makes exceptions for office visits which are essential for her son's health.

“I think his every few month visits are necessities simply because I know he’s on the vaccination schedule he must stick to,” she says. “But apart from that, if it wasn’t something that he absolutely needed, I definitely wouldn't be moving in.

“About virtual visits right now, if I were to need them. And same for him.”

Hospitals across the Midwest are nearing capacity as COVID cases surge. In early December, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delayed non-emergency surgeries in order to help free up hospital beds.

But he urges residents to not delay treatment.

“If you have a serious medical problem, you need to visit your physician now,” Holcomb says. “Don’t just seek it, get it the attention if you want it.”

Richard says when people delay care, they get sicker. And that is what will put stress on hospitals.

“When you get sicker, you will need a higher-level of care like a hospital emergency department or being admitted to the hospital,” he states. “So working hard to take care of yourself all along and keeping yourself healthy enough to in which you don’t need emergency care is one thing that truly allows us to and helps our healthcare system at this time.”