Local health professionals said more patients have started putting off preventive health care for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus—a trend some doctors believe is likely to cause more harm than good.

Some medical and dental offices that were deemed nonessential had to temporarily close or cancel appointments in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, in accordance with guidance from officials, these offices were permitted to begin reopening May 1.

Dr. Bruce Linden said preventive health care appointments at Highland Village Family Medicine have declined by about 29% from March-April 2019 to the same period this year.

“When I talk to people, they tell me that everybody’s terrified to come into the office,” Linden said. “They’re afraid that they’re going to catch COVID just by coming to the office by running into somebody who’s ill. But of course, we’ve taken a massive amount of precautions to mitigate any risk of that.”

Research shows that this aversion is part of a broader trend. Patient visits to health care providers declined by nearly 60% due to COVID-19, per a national study by Harvard University and health care technology company Phreesia.