UPMC doctor says COVID-19 is not as deadly as it is feared, says hospitals will return to normal


A UPMC doctor argued on Thursday that the death rate for people infected with the new coronavirus could be as low as 0.25% – far lower than the 2-4% or even higher death rates cited in the early days of the pandemic.

Dr. Donald Yealy based it in part on studies of levels of anti-coronavirus antibodies found in people in New York and California, and in part on deaths from COVID-19 in the Pittsburgh area. Studies have shown that 5-20% of people have been exposed to the coronavirus, many noticing any or no mild illness, he said.

“We learned that way more people, many, many more people were exposed to the infection without knowing it. This makes the overall death rate much lower, “said Yealy, president of emergency medicine at the UPMC. “Many people did not feel sick at all and recovered without difficulty. “

Yealy then proposed a hypothetical scenario of 3% of Allegheny County residents exposed – a conservative figure compared to the results of studies from New York and California.

This would mean that around 36,000 people in Allegheny have been exposed to the coronavirus. With 94 deaths from COVID-19 in the county on Thursday, that would mean that 0.25% of those exposed to the coronavirus have died, he said.

“There is a big difference between 0.25% mortality and 7%,” said Yealy.

Yealy said that around 1,300 people in Allegheny tested positive for COVID-19. This would mean, in his hypothetical scenario, that 34,700 other people had been exposed but had no symptoms. He noted that the latter group may also have antibodies to protect them from future infection, although he noted that the protection offered to people from previous exposure to the new coronavirus remains unknown.

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Yealy further said that the majority of deaths among UPMC patients involved people over the age of 80, many of whom were residents of nursing homes.

Yealy was one of the main public voices of the UPMC during the coronavirus pandemic. He spoke on Thursday in a 40-minute online chat with journalists.

Another speaker, Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, chief medical officer of health at the UPMC intensive care units, said that 234 COVID-19 patients have recovered and have left UPMC hospitals. ” That’s very good news. It means people are improving and we are all on the right track together. “

Mr. Yealy said that only 2% of the 5,500 beds in the UPMC system are occupied by COVID-19 patients and that the number of new COVID-19 patients is decreasing.

He cited this figure when explaining UPMC’s plans to rapidly increase its volume of non-emergency surgeries that have been largely banned for keeping beds and supplies for COVID-19 patients. The ban is now relaxed because the volume of COVID-19 patients is below the worst forecast.

Officials said the UPMC remains ready to deal with any resumption of COVID-19 cases.

Yealy said he couldn’t predict if there would be a second wave, but said, “What I suspect to be COVID-19 will be part of our experience in treating patients for a long time. [period of] months to maybe years. ”

Yealy was asked if people should be more worried about COVID-19 than regular flu. He said people should be “worried differently”, stressing that the two weigh most heavily on the elderly, especially residents of nursing homes, and those weakened by other medical conditions.

Yealy said he “would not see more or less, just two different diseases that share certain characteristics, but have different differences.”

Sackrowitz said she expects COVID-19 to be part of the “burden of disease” that affects Americans and, as with the flu, doctors will find treatments.

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