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Study shows drop in COVID-19 death rates in New York City

While the findings showed an improvement for critically ill patients, the researchers cautioned the data was from a single health system in New York City.

WASHINGTON — A recent study has shown a big drop in death rates among hospitalized COVID-19 patients in New York City. 

An analysis of coronavirus case admissions from a single health system in New York City found that patients hospitalized in March had a 25.6% chance of dying, compared to a 7.6% chance in August.

While it's a big improvement, the researchers at NYU Langone Health cautioned it's still a high risk compared to other diseases.

“This is still a high death rate, much higher than we see for flu or other respiratory diseases,” Dr. Leora Horwitz, lead author of the paper in the Journal of Hospital Medicine told the New York Times. “I don’t want to pretend this is benign. But it definitely is something that has given me hope.”

As the pandemic advanced into the summer, the study found that younger, healthier people were getting infected and arriving at the hospital with less severe symptoms than those infected in the spring. But the researchers were able to adjust for factors like age and prior diseases and still found a drop in mortality across the board.

According to the findings, the likelihood of death dropped 18 percentage points on average for most critically ill patients, regardless of their age.

Dr. Horwitz and her colleagues suspect part of the improvement in survival is a result of doctors' growing experience with the coronavirus. For example, the authors noted that physicians have learned laying COVID-19 patients on their stomachs rather than their backs was a more effective practice, along with delaying the use of ventilators as long as possible. 

The research team also cautioned that its data came from a single health system in New York City. 

A similar trend was seen by doctors in England. Researchers there looked at 21,000 hospitalized cases and found a drop in death rates among patients of around 20% since the height of the pandemic, according to NPR. 

One of the senior authors of the New York study, Dr. Christopher Petrilli, also cautioned that while death rates are improving, COVID-19 has been shown to cause some people long-term symptoms including fatigue, blood clots and lung damage.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has more than 8.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Thursday, the U.S. had more than 227,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 44 million confirmed cases with more than 1.1 million deaths.

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