Data show the average length of stay in Connecticut hospitals for COVID-19 patients is about half of what it was in the summer. The Connecticut Hospital Association says COVID patients spent an average of 15 days in the hospital in June. By October, that number had fallen to 7 1/2 days.
Dr. Frederick Browne, chief medical officer at Griffin Hospital in Derby, says patients stayed for two weeks on average in April. Things look different these days because “they’re sick enough to stay in the hospital,” he says “but they’re not staying in the hospital as long.”
Patients now stay at Griffin for four days on average, though Browne says he’s still seeing patients who require intensive care or a ventilator -- but not as many as this past spring.
Dr. Jeff Cohen, chief clinical operating officer for Hartford HealthCare, believes care has changed. Patients are coming in a lot sooner than they did in April, making the illness easier to treat.
“The key thing about it was that the patients were much sicker than they are today,” Cohen says. Testing is more common too, Cohen says, so patients seek tests and treatment sooner.
Cohen believes the coronavirus itself has changed. He says it’s less virulent now, meaning it moves slower and causes less damage. He also thinks it’s more contagious, and Browne agrees. His theory is that the sicker patients stay home and don’t infect others, while people with more mild cases go out more, spreading more of that specific mutation of the virus.
But Dr. Thomas Balcezak, an associate clinical professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says he doesn’t see enough evidence to support that idea. In fact, the COVID wards at Yale New Haven Hospital look a lot like the early days of the pandemic.
“The age demographic, the comorbidities and the percentages of patients that are both in the ICU and on ventilators looks pretty similar to where we were at the end of March,” Balcezak says.
He agrees that hospital stays have gone down, but that could be due to many factors. Interestingly, he saw mostly younger patients infected with the virus over the summer, which meant shorter, less complicated stays. But now Balcezak is seeing older patients fill hospital beds. He couldn’t say why that is or whether it’s a trend occurring outside his hospital system.
Data aren’t available for November yet, and how the virus will act through the winter is still unknown.
But the doctors all agree on one bright spot: More is known about the coronavirus now. Their hospitals are equipped with the right technology, nurses and physicians have adequate protective gear and those providers have a battery of methods to reduce suffering and alleviate symptoms.
No matter what happens this winter, they don’t expect to be blindsided like they were in the spring.
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.