Here’s why COVID-19 deaths are on the decline

More so than any other virus, SARS-CoV-2’s presentation is dependent on the age and health status of its host.

In the early days of the pandemic, the novel coronavirus was believed to evidence relatively low lethality. However, this was because patient samples were so small.

When researchers accounted for pre-existing conditions, the elderly, and those exposed to high doses of the virus upon infection, mortality projections were much less optimistic.

More than nine months into the COVID-19 crisis and following some impressive counters measures established and enforced by health systems around the country, a new study set to appear in the Journal of Hospital Medicine offers a bit of good news–with a catch.

The data was derived from 5,200 coronavirus cases treated at hospitals in New York City and Long Island between March and August. In that time the likelihood of mortality declined by 22% among patients admitted to the intensive care unit. Additionally, the median age of hospitalized patients dropped from 63 to 47 years-old in that same window.

It should be noted that similar trends are being documented nationwide.

“Our findings suggest that while COVID-19 remains a terrible disease, our efforts to improve treatment are probably working,” the study’s lead author Leora Horwitz of NYU Langone Health, explained in a media release. “Even in the absence of a silver-bullet treatment or vaccine, we are protecting more of our patients through a host of small changes.”

The new research was helmed by a team based out of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Alongside effective pharmaceuticals, vulnerable populations are more regularly adhering to public health guidelines that seem to be reducing transmission rates among them.

Sadly, younger populations, who by and large display mild or asymptomatic manifestations of the novel coronavirus, are driving case numbers up exponentially. Thankfully most of this population will recover without the need for medical intervention.

According to the authors, fatal COVID-19 instances declined by as much as 24% in mid-August. This represents a 3% drop from the rate recorded back in March.

It isn’t just the new clinical agents that are driving death rates down, or the young, stronger demographic transmitting the virus. Health systems have also become better at anticipating disease severity.

Recently Ladders reported on a new mathematical model that can reliably (within reason) predict fatal presentations of COVID-19 as early as day seven of infection.

Similarly, physicians have a much better idea about which regimens work better and for which patient samples.

The authors note that doctors have recently learned that resting COVID-19 patients on their stomachs instead of their backs during treatment actually increases their chances of surviving critical COVID-19 cases.

“Other pandemic hotspots should take hope from the lessons learned here in New York,” study senior author Christopher Petrilli concluded. “If we can do better at managing the disease, they can too.”