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Why number of COVID-19 deaths might not spike as sharply as in the spring

Improved treatment protocols, newer therapies, lower hospital volumes contributing to lower death rates

As Michigan is experiencing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, many people are concerned that the number of deaths will also climb in the coming weeks.

Some new research suggests COVID-19 deaths might not rise as sharply as they did in the spring.

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People who have been watching the numbers have noticed that the case fatality rate -- the number of people who die compared to the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases -- has fallen since the beginning of the pandemic. Some have suggested that could be explained by increased testing and diagnosis of younger, healthier people.

But two new papers -- one published in Critical Care Medicine and another in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, suggest there’s more to it.

The first study looked at more than 12,000 hospital admissions in England. They found death rates were highest in late March -- at 41% for COVID-19 patients in intensive care units -- compared to a much lower 21% for similar patients during that time.

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The second study looked at more than 5,000 patients admitted with COVID-19 to a New York hospital system. Researchers found that between March and August, hospitalized patients were younger and had fewer additional medical problems. But when they adjusted for age and other medical problems, death rates still dropped by 18%, on average.

Both papers suggest that improved treatment protocols, newer therapies and lower hospital volumes allowing for better care are working to lower the death rate.

Notably, the authors of both papers pointed out that while they found a decrease in the death rate over time, it’s still unacceptably high, and if hospital systems become overtaxed again, the rates could certainly increase.


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