The chances of dying from COVID-19 have fallen precipitously since the pandemic began, according to two new peer-reviewed studies.
One study, from researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, found that the death rate has gone down substantially among all age groups.
Patients treated by NYU’s health system had a 25.6% chance of dying when the pandemic began but that number has fallen to 7.6% in recent weeks, according to the study, which will be published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine next week.
The researchers identified multiple reasons for the drop, including increased experience with the virus among health workers, lower hospital capacity, the availability of new treatments, earlier intervention, higher community awareness, and “lower viral load exposure from increasing mask wearing and social distancing.” The researchers added that it is also possible that “earlier periods had a more virulent circulating strain.”
“Our findings suggest that while COVID-19 remains a terrible disease, our efforts to improve treatment are probably working,” co-author Leora Horwitz said in a statement. “Even in the absence of a silver-bullet treatment or vaccine, we are protecting more of our patients through a host of small changes.”
While the NYU study only looked at about 5,000 cases in a single health system in New York, another analysis by Bilal Mateen, a researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in the United Kingdom similarly found that the death rate has fallen about 20 percentage points since the pandemic began.
Khalilah Gates, a critical care pulmonologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told NPR that patients in the early days of the pandemic were put on ventilators and breathing machines and perhaps offered enrollment into critical trials but “six-plus months into this, we kind of have a rhythm, and so it has become an everyday standard patient for us at this point in time.”
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