As the local coronavirus outbreak stretches into its fifth month, healthcare providers are urging people not to skip routine visits to the doctor. Whether it's for a chronic condition— like diabetes or high blood pressure — or preventative care — such as childhood vaccines and annual mammograms — putting off care for too long is risky, they say.
"Don’t wait until symptoms are at their peak," said Dr. Marvin Campos, the area medical director for Kaiser Permanente in Kern County. "Don’t neglect yourself."
At the start of the statewide shutdown orders in March, Campos said many people stopped coming in for regular visits. Now, as people start to return for visits, their health conditions have worsened.
"What we’re starting to see is people moving toward more acute type of care," he said. "People coming in being more reactive rather than proactive and preventative."
While many health concerns can be put off a week or two without problems, letting them go for several months is concerning, he said.
Preventative care like annual colonoscopies and breast cancer screenings also should continue despite the pandemic.
Dr. Connie Lee, a breast surgical oncologist with Adventist Health Bakersfield, said there's been a decrease in annual screening mammograms done for women.
"Women are thinking, 'I’ll be fine. I can wait a few months until the pandemic is over,'" Lee said. "What I'm telling them is do it now when it’s scheduled."
Three months may seem like no big deal but "it’s not just three months, you’re actually talking 15 months" since the last mammogram, Lee said.
Measures are in place at medical facilities to protect against the spread of coronavirus, providers said. In most cases, patients seeking COVID-19 testing or treatment for virus symptoms are screened out of the group of people going into doctor's offices. They're being seen by telehealth or physically report to a different area of a clinic.
Kaiser Permanente members, for example, can have a test ordered, talk to a doctor and get a note for work all through an app, without having to see anyone in person, Campos said. Anyone who does go to a Kaiser Permanente facility with COVID-19 symptoms would be screened at the door, Campos said, and then directed to another area or, at certain locations, see a doctor standing nearby without having to go into the facility.
"That allows for our patients with their chronic diseases and preventative care, and everything else whether it's a painful elbow or painful shoulder, to come see us," Campos said.
Still, anyone heading into a clinic or doctor's office should wear a mask, maintain six feet of physical separation and practice good hand hygiene, healthcare providers said.
At Clinica Sierra Vista clinics, COVID-19 testing is generally done in the car so people suspected of having the virus aren't coming into the waiting rooms, Clinica Sierra Vista spokesman Tim Calahan said.
"You’re not going to be in a waiting room with someone waiting for a COVID test," he said.
It's especially important for those with mental health issues, like chronic depression and anxiety, to seek routine care since those conditions can be exacerbated by the shutdown and ongoing restrictions due to the virus, Calahan said.
"The overarching message is we don’t want people to think by not going to the doctor they’ll be safer. It’s quite the opposite," Calahan said. "You’re safer seeing the doctor because safety measures are in place."