As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States, many states have shifted healthcare policies to place a greater focus on those who have been infected. In order to do this, states must determine what is essential and non-essential healthcare, impacting marginalized people, such as poor people, communities of color, and women in severe ways.
In the U.S., there are about 47 million people using contraception, 3.8 million births, and 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections per year, and these numbers have stayed consistent during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though many reproductive health services have been deemed non-essential.
When it comes to abortion services, at least twelve states have created policies to suspend abortions during the pandemic, with only five states including abortion as an essential part of healthcare. Most commonly though, states have not defined what is and is not essential, letting healthcare workers determine this. The CDC recommended postponing “elective” and “non-essential surgeries” using a tiered framework that takes into account the severity and time-sensitivity of a patient’s needs.
As a result, the number of people going to the doctor for preventive health services, contraception, infertility care, pregnancy, and gynecologic cancer has decreased, according to a survey by Strata Decision Technology. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “more than half of women reported that they or a family member delayed or skipped medical care due to the coronavirus outbreak.”
While many conditions are not life-threatening, there can be serious consequences after deciding not to see a doctor. Undetected and untreated STIs can lead to complications such as infertility and ectopic pregnancies. Limited access to contraception puts people at risk for unintended pregnancies.
Many continue to remain fearful of being exposed to COVID-19 at a healthcare center. A Gallup poll conducted from May 14 to May 24 of 2020 showed that 70% of women are fearful of contracting the virus. Additionally, as over half of the workforce has lost their wages or jobs, and many may not be able to afford to receive healthcare.
Healthcare providers have also been reporting that many of their practices are struggling financially, with 77% reporting net-negative revenue in April of 2020.