Hospitals overwhelmed by surges led to more COVID-19 deaths, NIH study suggests


Registered nurse Andraya Zelle treats a patient in the COVID intensive care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle. King County, where the hospital is located, has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases after two-and-a-half straight months of increases. But the current lull could be, and some experts believe will be, upended as more contagious variants of the virus spread throughout United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The COVID-19 death rate increased when hospitals were overwhelmed with virus patients, a National Institute of Health study found, suggesting methods to prevent extra deaths during future surges.

NIH scientists, as well as CDC staff and researchers at several universities analyzed data from 150,000 COVID-19 inpatients from 558 U.S. hospitals from March to August 2020.

The study published Tuesday suggests that one in four COVID-19 deaths in U.S. hospitals may have been attributed to hospitals strained by surging caseloads.

“These findings have implications for triage strategies, hospital preparedness, how healthcare facilities allocate resources and how public health authorities can assess and react to local data,” the NIH said.

Researchers said if hospitals keep track of data such as number of COVID-19 patients, illness severity and bed capacity, they can take advance action to free up beds and request help quicker to potentially avoid “excess” deaths.

However, the study said that the risk and benefits for moving COVID-19 patients out of the hospital must be considered for each individual hospitals’ resources and ability.

“It is important that vaccination and basic, low-cost, and highly effective preventive strategies remain the primary focus to decrease the chances of surges occurring in the first place,” researchers maintained.

According to Our World in Data, nearly half of eligible U.S. residents are fully vaccinated at the time this study was published.

But researchers on the NIH study said their findings are still relevant as other countries with a vaccinated population have still experienced COVID-19 surges, especially as the delta variant begins dominating new confirmed cases.

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