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Erie County officials concerned Covid-19 keeping sick away from hospitals

Erie County officials are concerned some people with health problems are not seeking medical treatment at area hospitals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Erie County Medical Examiner's Office has received anecdotal reports indicating an increase in the number of people with treatable diseases who are dying without seeking medical treatment, County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said Friday.

The Medical Examiner's Office – which has authority in cases of non-natural deaths, including homicides, suicides, accidents and drug overdoses – sometime receives reports from doctors and hospitals about natural deaths, like those from conditions like diabetes, heart ailments and infectious diseases, Burstein said.

"Our Medical Examiner's Office has reported to me that they're receiving more this year than they have in the past," Burstein said.

Data on all deaths, including natural deaths, is tracked by the state Department of Health, not the county. The information provided to the Medical Examiner's Office by doctors and hospitals provides only a partial picture, she said.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Friday the county has also received reports of sick individuals saying they don't want to go to the hospital.

"We're concerned about that," Poloncarz said. " ... If you’re suffering from a health condition and you’re worried about going to a hospital because of Covid-19, please don’t. Go to the hospitals. They can handle it capacity-wise, and they have separate wards and divisions to split those who are Covid-19 patients from those that are not."

County health officials are continuing to review what death information they have, Burstein said. Current death statistics are not available from the state Department of Health and the most recent data on natural deaths available from the state is from 2017, she said.

Area hospital officials have told the county they are generally seeing fewer patients than normal come in for treatment of things like heart attacks, strokes or lung-related problems, Burstein said. Couple that with more deaths at home due to natural causes, lower numbers of admissions to emergency rooms and sick people who are present themselves with symptoms at the hospital when it's too late to be saved, and county officials have come to a sad conclusion.

"We assume that people are afraid to go to the hospital [because of] Covid-19," Burstein said. "Hospitals are safe places. Don't be afraid to go if you have to go to the hospital."

Seventeen more Erie County residents have died of Covid-19, Poloncarz said Friday.

That brings the county's death toll for the pandemic to 283 people, according to the Erie County Department of Health.

The number of Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Erie County on Wednesday – the most recent date for which data was available – remained at 253 people for the second straight day, Poloncarz said.

After reaching a new high point for the pandemic on Monday, the number of people hospitalized in Erie County with Covid-19 dropped slightly on Tuesday. Though the number dipped from 258 to 253, the latter still marked the second highest one-day total for the outbreak.

Through noon Friday, there were 3,472 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Erie County, up 62 since Thursday.

Niagara County officials on Friday announced another Covid-19-related death, bringing the county's total to 25.

Through Friday evening, 335 people in Western New York had died from Covid-19, according to county health departments.

[Related: Where Western New York's coronavirus cases are, county by county]

[Related: Erie County's Covid-19 cases by town, date, age, gender]

[Related: Erie County's map of where Covid-19 cases are]

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