New Data Confirms Doctors’ Fear: Majority of Americans Avoiding Treatment for Heart Attack and Stroke Due to COVID-19

Findings underscore alarming trend and add to potentially fatal ‘third wave’ impact of pandemic  

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 29, 2020)  As states begin to re-open, 40 percent of Americans still view going to the hospital as a risky behavior, even more than going to the hair salon, a concert or the beach, according to a national survey released in May by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Intervention (SCAI). The survey findings confirm a concern among doctors and hospitals that people are more afraid of contracting COVID-19 than seeking care for serious medical emergencies like a heart attack or stroke.  

This data comes during a time when hospitals nationwide are seeing a reduction in admissions for heart attacks, and according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, emergency room volumes are down by up to 50 percent, underscoring fears in the medical community of the dangerous, and potentially fatal, effects of COVID-19. These fears are also backed by a recent study showing a 38 percent drop in patients being treated for an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).1 

A new nationally-representative study, conducted by SCAI with DEFINITION 6, found more than 50 percent of Americans are more afraid of contracting COVID-19 than experiencing a heart attack, and an alarming rate of people are avoiding care for medical emergencies because of it.  

“The data that we are seeing from this survey is not just disturbing, it is a clear sign that Americans may be in for a dangerous third wave of  complications, and even fatalities, from delaying cardiac care during the time of this pandemic,” said Cindy Grines, MD, MSCAI, SCAI president, and chief scientific officer, Northside Cardiovascular Institute in Atlanta. “While there is still much we don’t know about COVID-19, we do know that when it comes to heart attacks or strokes, getting to the hospital quickly and receiving immediate care is the only safe course of action. Time to treatment helps ensure the best possible patient outcomes.”  

To help combat these fears and reverse the trend that’s emerged since stay-at-home orders have been put in place, SCAI wants to educate and empower people that even in this COVID-19 environment, seconds still count when it comes to their heart health. The Seconds Count Campaign is designed to help Americans remember the signs of a heart attack or stroke, and remind people that in the event of a cardiac emergency, seconds count when it comes to receiving life-saving care. 

“Cardiovascular disease is not hiding out in self-isolation waiting until it’s safe to strike,” said Kirk N. Garratt, MD, MSc, MSCAI, medical director, Center for Heart & Vascular Health, ChristianaCare in Newark, Del., and SCAI past president. “Now more than ever, we need to make sure people at risk, and their loved ones, know the signs of a heart attack or stroke and understand the need to get to the hospital quickly. Fear of COVID-19 can also be fatal. Delaying care results in more serious heart damage and even death. Our hospitals are ready to give the right cardiac care – safely.”      



Key Survey Highlights 

  • As states start to open up, more than one-third of Americans (36 percent) consider going to the hospital to be one of the riskiest behaviors to take part in compared to going to a hair salon (27 percent) or going to the beach (16 percent).
  • 61 percent of respondents think they are either somewhat likely or very likely to acquire COVID-19 in a hospital.
  • Half of respondents are more afraid of contracting COVID-19 than experiencing a heart attack or stroke. 
  • Nearly 60 percent of respondents are more afraid of a family member or loved one contracting COVID-19 than experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
  • When asked which are you more afraid of, contracting COVID-19, experiencing a heart attack or experiencing a stroke, twice as many people over the age of 60 are more afraid of contracting COVID-19 (52 percent) than they are of experiencing a heart attack (23 percent) or stroke (25 percent).


About the Survey
SCAI’s Seconds Still Count survey included 1,068 responses from a nationally representative sample over age 30. The confidence level for the survey is 95% with a margin of error of ±3.06.  


About SCAI  
The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions is a 5,000-member professional organization representing invasive and interventional cardiologists in approximately 75 nations. SCAI's mission is to promote excellence in invasive/interventional cardiovascular medicine through physician education and representation, and advancement of quality standards to enhance patient care. Learn more at or visit SCAI’s patient education website,



  1. Garcia S, Albaghdadi MS, Meraj PM, et al. Reduction in ST-segment elevation cardiac catheterization laboratory activations in the United States during COVID-19 pandemic [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 9]. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;S0735-1097(20)34913-5. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.04.011