Despite signs the curve may be starting to flatten, medical leaders say there are growing concerns and fears surrounding the coronavirus may be leading people to avoid coming to the hospital or doctor’s offices for emergency medical care.

“I think the surprising thing to us is the admission volume is off much more than we would have anticipated,” said Dr. Steven Hanks, the chief clinical officer at Saint Peter’s Health Partners.

Hanks says since the pandemic began there’s been a sharp drop in admissions for heart attacks, strokes, and other medical emergencies.

“Our emergency department visits fell literally off of a cliff by more than half and they have been sustained in that low level ever since,” Dr. Hanks said Tuesday.

Hanks cited a new report by the American College of Cardiology that suggests the trend is nationwide.

“We believe these heart attacks are still happening, it’s that people are just not activating 911 and coming to the hospital,” Hanks said.

“There have been stories about this; people stay home and people dying at home because they are afraid to go to the hospital,” Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said during his morning briefing Tuesday.

With social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders still in place, Dr. Hanks acknowledges it can be confusing to the public. Patients who do not require urgent care are still being asked to stay home.

“On the other hand, for essential healthcare services, we do not want people delaying or deferring on what is essential and that becomes the issue,” Hanks said. “How do you effectively educate the public on what is essential and what can wait?”

Dr. Hanks says he’s unaware of any local cases where someone lost their life because they avoided care. With extra precautions being taken to limit the virus’s spread, he says the safest place for someone needing emergency treatment is their doctor’s office or hospital.

“I can’t emphasize enough the conditions are safe,” Hanks said. “If you need sick care, the conditions are safe and that is the message we need to get across and communicate.”