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Death rates have dropped sharply
Amid a pandemic of bad news, there’s a bright spot: Survival rates among Covid-19 patients, even those with severe cases, are improving.
One New York hospital found that death rates among Covid-19 patients dropped to 3 percent from 30 percent between March and June, while a British study reported that survival rates of those in intensive care units jumped to 80 percent from 40 percent during the same period.
While it’s true that over time more young adults, who have better survival rates, have been hospitalized, studies have shown that the drop in fatalities is real, even when accounting for the shift in age. Researchers at NYU Langone Health recently studied 5,000 virus patients and controlled for differences in age, sex, race, underlying health problems and severity of symptoms. They found that death rates had dropped significantly, to 7.6 percent in August, from 25.6 percent in March.
Some have speculated that the coronavirus has become less virulent, but experts say there is no evidence for that. Instead, they think the survival rate has improved because clinicians learned how to treat the disease, incorporating the use of steroids and non-drug interventions. Patients are also seeking care earlier and hospitals have not not as overwhelmed as they were during the first wave.
Still, medical experts caution that the death rate from Covid-19 is many times higher than that of the flu, and that the disease has long-term damaging effects on the body.
There’s also no guarantee that deaths will continue to decrease. One of the reasons the death rate was so high in the spring was that hospitals were overwhelmed. And as hospitalizations have surged 40 percent in the U.S. over the last month, experts are worried that hard-won gains may be lost.
“If hospitals that aren’t prepared for large numbers of people have to deal with a large influx of Covid patients, or small hospitals get pulled into it, we should expect that mortality could change unfortunately,” said Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University. “That’s a warning.”