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A Year of COVID-19

In this article from the April 1 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dr. Vic Snyder, corporate medical director for external affairs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, discusses how we have lived the last year in a pandemic world. 

Health challenges sneak up on us. For a year we we’ve been battling a nasty virus at our front door, but other threats are creeping in the back.

During much of 2020, most of us spent lots of time at home, and the driving statistics show the decrease. The National Safety Council estimates that in 2020, miles traveled on American roads decreased 13 percent from 2019. But here’s the shocker: Motor vehicle accident fatalities increased by almost 3,000. In 2019, 39,107 people died in accidents. In 2020, the number had increased to 42,060. And the number of injuries requiring medical attention increased by almost 300,000.

Dr. Vic Snyder
Dr. Vic Snyder

Arkansas unfortunately made the list of top five states with the largest increase. In 2019, 506 people died in car crashes in Arkansas. That number increased to 638 in 2020, a 26 percent increase. There are fewer Arkansans on the road, but we are not driving as well.

Here’s another threat. Inpatient admissions for alcohol-related liver disease seem to have increased substantially during this past year. These are the very serious illnesses caused by too much alcohol. America has had increasing problems with alcohol for several years: Many of us drink too much too often. But the pandemic added to all the factors that lead to unhealthy drinking habits: isolation; anxiety about jobs, money, family; many more people working at home with accessibility to alcohol; the curtailment of normal recreational and supportive activities such as exercise, friends, AA meetings, and church.

These serious end-stage alcohol-related liver diseases may be a barometer for other alcohol-related health and social problems. Marital arguments, job performance, and disciplining children never go well with alcohol. And of course, driving with alcohol in your system is not safe.

Opioids, methamphetamines, and other drugs with abuse potential have also flourished during this pandemic year. For several years much effort had led to progress with substance use disorder using treatments such as Suboxone and Naloxone and better opioid prescribing procedures by health care providers. But, like over-indulgence with alcohol, the pandemic isolation and stresses have exacerbated the factors leading to substance use disorder. Tragically, overdose deaths have increased when they had been decreasing prior to covid. But there are treatment opportunities available today.

Here’s another threat. A not-for-profit group called FAIR Health analyzed millions of health insurance claims for the pediatric population to include people up to age 22. The focus of the study was on behavioral health. What they saw was another shocker.

Most of us during this last year have decreased our visits to doctors and hospitals as much as we could. We put off elective procedures, and we skipped our normal check-ups; and the decrease in claims for these kinds of medical events demonstrates these changes. But for kids, there was a substantial increase in claims for behavioral health issues, a reflection of how challenging the pandemic disruptions have been for children. Medical claims are down; behavioral health claims are up.

Thankfully, these kids and their parents did seek treatment, but more of us should. Why do I say that? Because there is much undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and other behavioral health suffering.

And finally, many of us have avoided routine visits to our health-care providers so we would decrease our potential exposures to covid. But there is a price to be paid.

Preventive care saves lives and improves quality of life. We stayed home to fight covid, but cancers, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, missed opportunities for routine vaccinations, and other health threats are taking advantage of us.

We must do both: fight covid by wearing a mask, keeping our distance, and getting vaccinated. And be healthy by getting back to our health checkups.

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