DALLAS – FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – More doctors are urging people not to avoid necessary medical care, in an effort to avoid possible exposure to COVID-19.

At Medical City Heart Hospital in Dallas, interventional cardiologist Bruce Bowers said patients have not been showing up for appointments, or even returning phone calls, in a trend he called, “unnerving.”

“This is not unique to Dallas,” he said. “This is not unique to this particular practice. This is going on across the country.”

Emergency rooms at hospitals across North Texas started seeing a steep drop in patients in mid-March, with some down more than 35%.

MedStar Mobile Health care in Tarrant County shared numbers last week showing calls for ailments like abdominal pain, back pain and chest pain have all dropped since January.

The drop off has led to some health care companies cutting hours, pay and positions, while also trying to be prepared to handle a potential surge of patients during the pandemic.

Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said this week the drop-off indicated to him people were following the orders to stay home.

“The messaging seems to be working, and the messaging is do not go to the hospital unless you’re seriously ill with either COVID or another illness,” he said.

That does not mean, Bowers said, that people having active symptoms of another ailment, should avoid seeking help.

“If you’re having shortness of breath, if you’re having chest pains, you still call 911 and you get taken to the emergency room,” he said.

He and representatives from other healthcare systems emphasized staff and facilities have been prepared to separate more common patients, from those with a COVID-19-like illness, and limit the chances of the virus being transmitted.

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