Considering the fact that there is no clear evidence to say if the virus has become more virulent or easily transmissible than before, what could possibly explain the shift?
One hypothesis was that the proportion of elderly people getting infected had come down as they had avoided stepping out and isolated themselves. Those who were getting admitted were majorly adults, who have a higher survival rate than the elderly.
However, doctors quoted in the article believed that the progress wasn’t just a function of the demographic changes, but rather that of some ‘real improvement’. Researchers at NYU Langone Health, who looked at over 5,000 patients at three hospitals from March to August, found that even when they controlled for differences in the patients’ age, sex, race, underlying health problems and severity of Covid symptoms — like blood oxygen levels at admission — the death rates had dropped from 25.6% in March to 7.6% in August.
Dr Leora Horwitz, director of NYU Langone’s Center for Healthcare Innovation & Delivery Science and senior author of the paper in Journal of Hospital Medicine, said, “We don’t have a magic bullet cure, but we have a lot, a lot of little things, that add up. We understand better when people need to be on ventilators and when they don’t, and what complications to watch for, like blood clots and kidney failure. We understand how to watch for oxygen levels even before patients are in the hospital, so we can bring them in earlier. And of course, we understand that steroids are helpful, and possibly some other medications.”
However, this is not the time to be complacent, the doctors urged. A drop in the death rate still did not mean people weren’t dying. In fact, the death rate was still much higher than for flu and other respiratory diseases. Dr Robert A. Phillips, chief physician executive at Houston Methodist told the NYT, that the disease remains “not only deadly – 10 times more deadly probably than a bad influenza – but it also has long-term complications. You don’t have that from the flu.”
“I don’t want to pretend this is benign. But it definitely is something that has given me hope,” Horwitz said.