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Dec. 02, 2020:  Study: COVID-19 Mortality Rate Declined 75% Since First Hospitalized Cases, but Concerns Remain for N.J.’s Second Wave

As New Jersey confronts an intense second wave of COVID-19, one key finding from the first months of the pandemic provides a note of hope: The mortality rate for patients hospitalized with the disease in New Jersey dropped from 25.3 percent during April to 6 percent in August.

New Jersey was one of the nation’s first COVID-19 hotspots, and now has a track record with this novel virus. NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation (CHART) analyzed five months of COVID-19 data and identified data shifts in three key areas – patients’ age and gender, underlying health conditions and mortality – that provide a foundation of information for the current surge.

CHART’s analysis is based on data from more than 27,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Jersey between April 1 and Aug. 31, 2020. Key findings include:

  • Treatment and Mortality – There were limited, if any, defined treatment protocols for COVID-19 when the virus first struck New Jersey. Yet, within almost five months of being introduced to this novel virus, New Jersey experienced a decrease in hospitalized COVID-19 deaths, as well as reductions in severe forms of treatments and in average lengths of stays. Over a quarter of hospitalized COVID-19 patients (25.3 percent) died during April, more than four times the percentage in July through August (6 percent).
  • Demographics – New Jersey hospitals are seeing younger patients with COVID-19 as the virus continues its spread. In April, nearly one-third (32.6%) of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients were ages 60-74, while the 18-29 demographic represented just 3 percent of hospitalized cases. By August, the 18-29 age group represented 13 percent of all hospitalized patients, while the 60-74 demographic saw its total fall to 21.8 percent. In addition, the data shows a shift along gender lines. In April, 56.1 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were male and 43.9 percent were female. By August, women represented the majority of hospitalized patients (53.4%) compared with 46.6 percent men.
  • Comorbidities – While earlier research emphasized the connection between COVID-19 and the lungs, New Jersey data shows that hospitalized COVID-19 patients with kidney disease/impairment had the highest prevalence of mortality. Kidney disease was present in 74.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths between April and August, followed by hypertension (73%) and diabetes (46.8%).

“I find reassurance in these findings as New Jersey hospitals hone their treatment and response to this novel virus,” said NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett. “They continue to write the playbook for COVID-19 treatments, and we’re seeing the results in decreased mortality among hospitalized patients, fewer patients requiring ventilators and shorter hospital stays.

“However – and I can’t say this strongly enough – New Jersey faces a difficult pandemic winter, and we cannot relax the precautions we all must take against this virus,” added Bennett.

CHART’s data shows that 20.8 percent of hospitalized patients in April required ventilation – use of a machine that provides supplemental oxygen through a mask – while 15.7 percent required more intensive intubation, which includes a breathing tube inserted into the windpipe. In August, use of those interventions had fallen to 15.7 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

In addition, the average length of a hospital stay for a discharged COVID-19 patient declined from 9.2 days in April to 5.9 days in August.

Identifying the reasons behind these shifts are beyond the scope of CHART’s study, but CHART Senior Vice President Sean Hopkins said they are consistent with other national research, which showed the impact of advancements in treatment methods, increased awareness that led patients to seek care earlier and improved testing as important influences.

However, Hopkins cautioned that COVID-19 remains a serious threat, especially for those with underlying health conditions.

“Hospitalized patients with high-risk comorbidities like kidney disease, heart failure and hypertension continued to experience worse health outcomes in the subsequent months after April. As COVID-19 hospitalization rates rise during New Jersey’s second wave, the presence of both COVID-19 and comorbidities remains a deadly combination for many,” said Hopkins.

The full CHART bulletin can be found at The New Jersey Hospital Association (njha.com).