One in five NY coronavirus patients critically ill, researchers warn
07/07/2020 // Michael Alexander // Views

One out of five patients infected with COVID-19 in New York City, the highly infectious disease caused by the coronavirus, have fallen “critically ill,” experts have said.

In a study published in The Lancet, researchers from Columbia University noted that 80 percent of the reported critically ill patients needed ventilators to help them breathe and that nearly 40 percent of the said patients died by the end of the research period.

Nearly a third of the critically ill coronavirus patients also needed dialysis, the researchers said, a direct result of the coronavirus attacking the patients’ kidneys.

Understanding of how COVID-19 affects critically ill patients is limited

As detailed in the journal, the Columbia researchers looked at 257 adults hospitalized at Allen Hospital and Milstein Hospital in New York, both of which are NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals affiliated with Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) in northern Manhattan.

The researchers, in their study, said their findings have important implications for U.S. hospitals, specifically the need to prepare for large numbers of COVID-19 patients who require intensive care.

According to the researchers, despite a large number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the United States, detailed understanding of how the virus is affecting critically ill patients in the U.S. has, so far, been limited to reports from a small number of cases, thus resulting in significant gaps in terms of critical information.

The prospective observational cohort study by Columbia is the latest and largest to attempt to fill those gaps in.


“Our study aimed to identify risk factors associated with death in critically ill COVID-19 patients in a U.S. hospital setting,” Natalie Yip, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of medicine at CUIMC, said in a press release. (Related: New York nursing homes now a “slaughterhouse” for elderly coronavirus patients.)

In addition to the new findings, the Columbia study also corroborated earlier findings from researchers in China, Italy, and the UK regarding the disease.

According to the researchers, 67 percent of hospitalized victims were male, and that the critically ill patients tended to be older, with an average age of 62.

The Columbia study also reflected earlier findings regarding the communities affected by the pandemic, with the researchers noting that about 20 percent of the critically ill patients were African American, while nearly two-thirds came from Latino backgrounds.

According to the experts, while it is not exactly clear why minorities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, one plausible theory is that it’s because minorities are less likely to stay home from work to limit their exposure, citing data which showed that nearly 20 percent of Latino people and 23 percent of black and African Americans live in poverty.

In addition, the researchers also noted that patients from African American and Latino backgrounds tended to have themselves admitted to hospital much later in the course of their illness, compared to white patients.

Risk factors in critically ill COVID-19 patients identified

As described in the study, about 80 percent of the observed critically ill patients had at least one chronic illness. This, the researchers said, not only left the patients generally less resilient to infection but also, left them more vulnerable to dangerous levels of inflammation.

Among the risk factors identified in the critically ill COVID-19 patients were obesity, which was present in 46 percent of the patients; as well as high blood pressure, which was manifested by 63 percent of the patients; and diabetes, which showed up in 36 percent of the observed cases.

According to the researchers, their study gives much-needed insight into the COVID-19 situation and how it affects patients and hospital systems alike.

“Our study provides an in-depth understanding of how COVID-19 may be affecting critically ill patients in U.S. hospitals,” Max O’Donnell, an assistant professor at CUIMC and the study’s senior author, said.

“Of particular interest is the finding that over three-quarters of critically ill patients required a ventilator and almost one third required renal dialysis support,” O’Donnell added, noting that their study’s findings have important implications in terms of resource allocation in hospitals.

As of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 1,577,758 individuals in the United States and killed 94,729 according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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