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Live Coronavirus News and Updates

Beds, blood, doctors, nurses and ventilators are in short supply; operating rooms are being turned into intensive care units; surgeons have been redeployed to treat people who cannot breathe. Even if there is room for other patients, medical centers hesitate to bring them in unless necessary, for fear of infecting them — or of health workers being infected by them. Patients themselves are afraid to set foot in the hospital even if they are really sick.

Early on, as the coronavirus loomed, many hospitals halted elective surgery. Knee replacements, face lifts and most hernias could wait. So could checkups and routine mammograms.

But some conditions fall into a gray zone of medical risk. While they may not be emergencies, many illnesses could become life threatening or leave patients with permanent disabilities if they are not quickly treated. Doctors and patients alike are confronted with a worrisome future: How long is too long to postpone medical care or treatment?

Nearly one in four cancer patients reported delays in their care because of the pandemic, including access to in-person appointments, imaging, surgery and other services, according to a recent survey by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Patrick Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers University, died on April 16, after blood rationing prevented him from getting enough transfusions to allow him to receive chemotherapy for a relapse of the blood cancer multiple myeloma. He was 53.

His wife, Maria Kefalas, considers him a forgotten victim of the coronavirus.

“I’m not saying he would have beaten the cancer,” said Ms. Kefalas, a professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “I’m saying it wouldn’t have been four months, this precipitous decline, fighting for blood, fighting for hospice nurses.”

“People like my husband now are dying not because of Covid,” she said, “but because the health care system just cracked open and swallowed them up.”

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