As coronavirus cases have surged recently in Oklahoma and across the country, we haven’t seen a corresponding increase in deaths. Why is this?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
The drop in fatality rate is most likely attributable to a combination of factors: testing, treatment and a change in the population getting infected. In addition, death rates typically trail new infections by a few weeks, so it’s quite possible we’ll see those numbers rise.
Since early spring, we’ve improved testing capacity, increasing nationwide from about 100,000 tests a day to more than 600,000. As a result, we’re identifying positive cases we wouldn’t have caught earlier, finding infections in people with few or no symptoms. These larger numbers of confirmed mild cases are helping to drive down death percentages.
In the first week of April, testing confirmed 719 cases in Oklahoma, with 57 reported deaths two weeks later, for a case fatality rate of about 8 percent. By the week of June 15, the state saw 2,284 confirmed cases but only 13 deaths two weeks later — a case fatality rate of less than 1 percent.
Healthcare workers have learned how to better treat the sickest patients. Using blood thinners, the steroid dexamethasone, and techniques like lying patients on their stomachs, they’ve improved outcomes for those with severe cases.
In addition, between April and June, U.S. hospitalizations for the virus dropped by half. This has eased the strain on healthcare workers and freed up potentially lifesaving equipment like ventilators, enabling more effective care for critically ill patients.
However, we’ve seen hospitalizations climb significantly in recent weeks. If this trend continues, mortality rates will likely jump as well.
The virus takes its heaviest toll on those 65 and older, who account for 80 percent of all deaths. But a spike in infections among young people, who are much less likely to die from the virus, has driven the recent surge.
For instance, in the two weeks leading up to President Donald Trump’s visit to Tulsa, the Health Department reported that more than half of all new cases in Oklahoma were people 35 and younger. This mirrors national trends.
Wait and see
We haven’t seen any indication the virus has mutated in a way that makes it less deadly. When deaths do occur, they often follow new infections by a matter of weeks.
While we monitor the current numbers, we must keep treating the virus as the deadly foe it is. So, you know the drill: keep wearing masks and physical distancing.