While many governments are moving to relax physical distancing measures, the American health care system may be hit with a greater COVID-19 burden than originally anticipated, a recent UC Berkeley study found.
The study, which was done in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente, studied COVID-19 patients on the West Coast and found that they needed longer hospital stays and higher rates of intensive care unit admission than patients in China, according to data projected from China. Age and sex were examined as variables in the study, with older people and men facing more infections on average.
The data for much of the prediction and modeling for Western COVID-19 care has come out of China, according to UC Berkeley professor and principal researcher Joseph Lewnard, yet the study suggests this data may not be as applicable to other countries.
The team chose to undertake the project due to a shortage of U.S.-specific clinical research regarding the pandemic, Lewnard said.
“Even right now, there are far fewer papers summarizing clinical outcomes for patients in the U.S., in comparison to how many came out in China,” Lewnard said.
The results of the study will help sharpen the accuracy of American COVID-19 projections and shape their practical applications, including the allocation of hospital resources, which will help the U.S. health care system better address the needs of the population during the pandemic, according to Lewnard.
He added that the study “sets a baseline” for the country’s health care response as transmission continues to increase.
While the results of this study can be incorporated into broader models of the United States, UC Berkeley graduate student Graham Northrup, who worked on the study, said it is important to keep in mind that the sample taken in the study consists of people who have commercial health insurance and are therefore likely to be of higher socioeconomic status than a broader sample of the population.
The study also does not reflect locations in which hospital capacity was exceeded, according to Northrup.
But, the data carries across multiple states, is reliably monitored and presents an improvement over the previous findings that came from countries with vastly different approaches to public health, Lewnard added.
Although the United States has seen a decrease in COVID-19 mortality rates over past months due to physical distancing and improved patient care, Lewnard said continued caution is necessary.
“The pandemic is not going away anytime soon,” Lewnard said. “Knowing what a hospital system should be prepared for to respond to cases that occur is quite important.”