After 'baptism by fire,' hospitals say they're better prepared to treat COVID-19 this fall

Physicians and leaders at many U.S. hospitals say they are feeling better prepared to respond to a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases this fall, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Physicians told the publication they have a better understanding of COVID-19 and how to treat it, including which patients need to be ventilated and when patients can be discharged. Leaders said they also have a better sense of which treatments and supplies are needed to treat COVID-19 patients and are stockpiling them in case of future surges. 

This spring "was ultimately baptism by fire," Donald Landry, MD, physician-in-chief of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, told the Journal. Armed with new treatment knowledge, this fall should be very different for hospitals and physicians, he said.

"Obviously this can get out of control — we don't have a magic bullet for it yet — but your prospects are actually very good," Dr. Landry told the Journal.

Hospitals and physicians pointed to decreasing death rates and lower intensive care unit patient volumes as evidence that these changes are leading to better outcomes. For example, the death rate for COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Providence, R.I.-based Lifespan fell from nearly 19 percent in March to 14 percent from June through August, according to Mitchell Levy, MD, director of the medical intensive care unit at Lifespan's Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

Improved outcomes may also be due to declining COVID-19 patient volumes, which allow physicians to spend more time with patients, along with the fact that more virus patients have been younger and healthier than in the spring, hospitals and physicians said. Patients are also coming into the hospital earlier for care, which allows physicians to treat them before their condition worsens.

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