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Study explains why COVID-19 death rates are dropping

A new study from NYU Grossman School of Medicine  explains why fewer New Yorkers are dying from COVID-19 than what was expected. The regional COVID-19 death rates have dropped, which is partly due to the fact that the virus shifted to begin  a portion of the population that is more resilient.

New York became the epicenter for the pandemic in early March, and the coronavirus killed tens of thousands of people. Experts anticipated a similar number of losses in the following months. 

However, the results of a new study reveal that by mid-August, the death rate among COVID-19 patients dropped by 24 percentage points. The researchers found that the virus had begun infecting a younger, healthier group of people that were being admitted to the hospital with less severe symptoms.

In addition, the experts believe that health care providers have helped to lower COVID-19 mortality rates in New York as they accumulate more experience in treating the virus. 

For example, physicians learned that resting COVID-19 patients on their stomachs rather than their backs and delaying the use of ventilators as long as possible were more effective practices, explained the study authors. Drugs likely helped as well. In addition, other factors such as and 

Some of the other factors that may have helped more people survive COVID-19 include earlier testing, improved treatment, decreasing hospital volumes, and less exposure to infection.

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


New York was one of the first states to be faced with a major COVID-19 outbreak. When southern and western states were hit by the virus in more recent waves, they were less deadly compared to New York, and the reasons were not entirely clear.

Dr. Horwitz said the new study is the most detailed analysis to date of coronavirus death rates over time. The team was able to eliminate some potential factors by accounting for age, obesity, and other key factors.

The investigation was focused on 5,263 patient records of people treated for COVID-19 at NYU Langone hospitals in New York City and Long Island between March 1 and August 8. Over this time period, the likelihood of death decreased by 22 percentage points, while the average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped from 63 to 47. 

“Other pandemic hotspots should take hope from the lessons learned here in New York,” said study senior author Dr. Christopher Petrilli. “If we can do better at managing the disease, they can too.” He noted that the research team next plans to expand the investigation to hospitals outside of New York.

Dr. Petrilli emphasized that while death rates are improving, COVID-19 still causes symptoms in some people that continue long after hospital patients are sent home, including fatigue, blood clots, and lung damage.

The study is published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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