We've previously tackled the topic of continuing regular medical care while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but many New Jersey residents remain apprehensive owing to fears of a spike or second wave of the virus.

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The New Jersey Hospital Association is touting the fact that Garden State hospital staffs know much more about COVID transmission now than the very little that was widely known at the beginning of March.

To add to that, NJHA Vice President Kerry McKean Kelly said that even at the height of New Jersey's numbers in mid-April, those seeking COVID treatment represented only 20% of patient volume in hospitals, a figure that has since dwindled to 5% or lower.

NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett said hospitals were able to increase their capacity by more than 60% in the spring and did it safely and securely.

Despite that, elective procedures are still down 24% in New Jersey versus this time last year. And in a "Health Attitudes" survey conducted by NJHA, 5 out of 6 New Jersey residents are still at least somewhat concerned, if not more, about contracting the coronavirus during a hospital visit.

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The need to keep regularly scheduled appointments, plus pursue non-COVID procedures whether elective or not, is the focus of NJHA's "Get Care Now NJ" consumer awareness campaign.

"There should be a confidence level as we continue to navigate this virus, and as we await a vaccine," Bennett said. "There are things you can do that protect you, keep you safe, and make it absolutely not just safe, but required for you to maintain your own health and wellness."

Betty Callahan of Spotswood was one of those who said she would have had trepidation earlier in the pandemic, but felt "very safe" during a recent hospital trip for a cardiac ablation.

She reported fever screenings, universal mask-wearing, a detailed questionnaire, and frequent staff handwashing, both for her pre-tests and her actual appointment.

"I never would have had this procedure done in March or April or even May, I would not have had this done," Callahan said. "But now, as a patient in the hospital, I would do it no matter what."

One interesting finding in the Health Attitudes survey was the increased willingness by those 65 and older, generally thought to be the highest-risk group for COVID-19 complications, to get needed medical care, at least compared to respondents ages 50 to 64.

Bennett said that disparity may be due to many in the younger bracket being responsible for either child care or elder care, therefore making their own health a lower priority.

Plus, the older patients have readily embraced alternate options such as telehealth and virtual visits.

"Those that are 65 and over, they've been managing their health and wellness," Bennett said. "They've been managing their chronic conditions, and frankly they've been really good about wanting to get back to care."

Regardless of age, Callahan's message to all who are considering finally going back for medical care after a long layoff is simple: "Don't be afraid."

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