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COVID-19 Less Deadly Now Than Before?

November 3, 2020
COVID-19 Less Deadly Now Than Before? - Lark Health

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Mortality rates from COVID-19 may be lower now than in the spring, but it is hard to tell for sure.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect billions of people worldwide. Over a million people have been killed by the novel coronavirus. "First waves" have yielded to second and possibly third waves. Countries and states that were praised for initial efforts to contain COVID-19 have experienced recurring outbreaks. With winter approaching in the northern hemisphere, some experts predict an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Isn't there any good news after almost a year since first hearing about this new, world-changing, and sometimes deadly virus?! 

While the pandemic is far from over, there may be a bit of good news that stems from doctors' experiences in treating millions of COVID-19 patients. In a few short months, doctors have become experts in COVID-19. 

The result may be that the disease is less deadly. Still, there is much that we still do not know about COVID-19. Here is where the ever-changing situation seems to stand now.

Mortality rates among hospitalized patients may be decreasing.

In other words, it appears that patients who are getting COVID-19 now are more likely to survive than they would have had they gotten it early in the pandemic, say, in March. This pattern appears to be similar worldwide. 

One possible reason for this decrease is that compared to earlier when more older people were getting COVID-19, more younger people are now getting the virus. More possible explanations for lower mortality rates now compared to earlier are related to improvements in treatment [1, 2].

  • Use of steroids, such as dexamethasone, to suppress potentially harmful excessive immune responses.
  • Use of supplemental oxygen when oxygen rates dip below values that are not as low as for many other conditions (that is, providing oxygen before levels get too low in the body).
  • Use of antiviral medications.

There has been talk of drugs such as remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine assisting in recovery, but the World Health Organization does not support their use in COVID-19 treatment, citing lack of evidence [3].

Other factors may be at play in the lower mortality rates.

There is a chance that mortality rates are lower, but only temporarily due to random blips and dips. That means the numbers could go back up, which could easily be the case if cases increase enough to overfill hospitals again. (And, if hospital systems are overwhelmed, patients will not receive optimal care).

Another possibility is that more people are being tested, so the calculated mortality rates are lower. In other words, all (or nearly all) of hospitalizations and deaths have been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic. However, many COVID-19 cases likely went undetected due to limited testing. 

Testing has become more common due to improved availability and lower costs, leading to increased awareness of COVID-19 cases. That means a lower percentage for hospitalizations and deaths, regardless of improved treatment or not.

Better public knowledge can help lower mortality rates.

Regardless of whether mortality rates are high or low among COVID-19 patients in hospitals, there is a sure way of lowering death rates overall: lowering the risk of getting COVID-19 in the first place. 

There is still a lot that we do not know about COVID-19 and how it spreads, but we know more than we did in the early spring. For example, we know masks reduce infection rates, staying outdoors is safer than visiting with people indoors, and people can be infectious even if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19. We know that staying 6 feet apart can be enough when walking past someone on the sidewalk, but possibly not while indoors for an extended period of time.

With these bits of information, we can each try to protect ourselves, our household members, and society in general from COVID-19. Wearing a cloth face covering in public, avoiding being in indoor places with people from other households, and continuing to wash hands frequently can, literally, save lives. 

Be safe, just in case.

It remains unclear whether mortality risk is lower for COVID-19 patients, but either way, protecting yourself and those around you can help lower the number of COVID-19 patients and, therefore, the number of deaths.

The pandemic will be here for a while longer, as experts are talking about it being months or longer before getting back to a more normal way of life. Until then, it is safest to act as though COVID-19 is in the community. 

Along with trying to stay safe with the above mentioned measures, there are additional ways to support your own health not only to lower your risk for prevent COVID-19, but to maintain some degree of emotional and physical well being during this challenging period. The following can help.

  • Staying or getting physically active.
  • Eating a nutritious diet and losing extra pounds.
  • Managing any chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, that appear to increase risk for more serious cases of COVID-19.
  • Managing stress.

This period of the pandemic can be trying, but Lark can help. Your 24/7 coach offers personalized help with managing or preventing chronic conditions with simple, manageable choices that can turn into habits.

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