COVID-19 hospitalizations increase at Norton Healthcare, but cases less severe

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased at Norton Healthcare in recent weeks, but fewer patients require ventilators and intensive care.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have increased at Louisville’s largest health care system in recent weeks, but cases are generally less severe, according to the head of Norton Infectious Diseases Institute.

The recent increase at Norton Healthcare hospitals appears to trace back to socialization since Memorial Day and into the Independence Day holiday, according Paul S. Schulz, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist and chief of the institute.

Describing recent drives to and from the hospital, he said, “you can just see in traffic how many more people are out now. … You see a lot more activity, and with activity you’re going to see more opportunities for transmission for sure.”

But the reason for the cases being less severe is more of a mystery, according to Dr. Schulz. He expects the health care community may be able to learn the reason once there’s an opportunity to look back at the data. For now, there is higher need for intensive care unit beds and ventilators in areas such as Texas and Florida.

It’s also possible that today’s relatively mild cases could turn severe quickly, Dr. Schulz cautioned.

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“One of the things we learned early on in this was that a patient might test positive and appear to be managing well, then see their condition deteriorate quickly,” Dr. Schulz said.

Protocols and treatments may be lessening COVID-19’s impact

Experience with the disease also has benefited the more recent patients. Unlike early in the outbreak, health care providers are able to recognize the disease more quickly and get out in front of it with treatment.

Implementation of standard procedures for basic care of COVID-19 patients with fluids and oxygen also have helped.

Antiviral drug remdesivir and other treatments also appear to be having an effect. Gilead Sciences Inc., the maker of the antiviral drug, announced recently that preliminary indications suggest that a clinical trial of remdesivir showed 62% lower risk of death.

“There are other things that we’re doing, but remdesivir obviously gets a lot of attention because it’s so far along, in terms of treatment, with scientific evidence that it positively impacts the cases,” Dr. Schulz said.

Training and organization lead to calm, steady care

While stories of chaotic hospital units in places hit hard by the coronavirus continue to make headlines, the situation at Norton Healthcare has been much quieter.

“I think people would be surprised to see the level of calmness among health care providers in our units,” Dr. Schulz said. “I was very impressed with our health care workers’ ability to adapt to this new challenge and get organized. And with organization came some calm, I think.”

That extends to emergency departments, which are well staffed with workers using personal protective equipment and taking other steps to protect patients, staff and the community.

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