Fatal cardiac arrests soared in the streets and homes of New York at the peak of the coronavirus epidemic there in March and April, researchers reported Friday.
While coronavirus likely caused many of these deaths, others were probably a consequence of an overwhelmed medical system, the researchers reported in the journal JAMA Cardiology.
They found a three-fold increase in the number of people needing emergency resuscitation in 2020 as compared to the same time period last year. And 90% of these people died, the team at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Health System found.
“It shows the immense impact of Covid-19 in the city of New York,” said Dr. David Prezant, a professor of medicine at Einstein and the chief medical officer for the Fire Department of New York.
“Three-fold is actually a conservative number because on April 6 it was a 10-fold increase,” Prezant told CNN. On that day in 2019, EMTs responded to 30 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. On April 6, 2020, there were 305.
For the whole time period of March and April, there were 3,989 cardiac arrests outside of the hospital in 2020, compared to 1,336 in 2019. That’s 2,653 more deaths in 2020 compared to 2019.
Prezant and colleagues analyzed the available information on these victims. They were mostly older, Black or Hispanic, and more likely to have diabetes or high blood pressure. Many were also physically frail, Prezant said.
Plus, when EMTs arrived, they found that the patients had what are called non-shockable arrhythmias. They could not be rescued by CPR or defibrillation.
“The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic is not just the number of patients infected, but the large increase in out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and deaths,” Prezant and colleagues concluded.
“This catastrophe transpired despite similar rates of bystander CPR, similar EMS response times, and similar durations of resuscitation efforts, compared with 2019.”