Deaths not counted: 3,600 cardiac arrest deaths in NYC were result of COVID

Officials had warned in early April the death toll was an undercount.

Between March 1, when the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in New York City, and April 25, when EMS call volume receded to pre-COVID-19 levels, EMS responded to nearly 4,000 cardiac arrest calls. That is triple the amount from the previous year, according to the FDNY.

Of those calls, 90% of the cases were fatal.

Officials said few, if any, of those patients were tested for COVID-19. However, the FDNY believes the 3,600 deaths were as much the result of the coronavirus as any confirmed case.

“The dramatic increase in cardiac arrests compared to the same period in 2019, strongly indicates that the pandemic was directly or indirectly responsible for that surge in cardiac arrests and deaths," Dr. David Prezant, Chief Medical Officer at the FDNY, said.

New York City's COVID-19 death toll stands at more than 22,000, according to city data. The majority of those deaths have been confirmed cases, meaning there was a positive COVID-19 laboratory test. About 4,600 are considered probable COVID-19 deaths, meaning there was not a positive lab result, but the cause of death was reported as "COVID-19" or equivalent.

A study published on Friday in JAMA Cardiology found a three-fold increase in cardiac arrest cases in March and April 2020 compared with the same period last year in New York City. On the worst day, April 6, cardiac arrests peaked at 305 cases, which was a 10-fold increase from the same day a year earlier.

The mortality rate for cardiac arrest cases increased from 75% in 2019 to more than 90% in 2020, according to the study.

On average, the patients in 2020 compared with those in 2019 were older, less likely to be white, more likely to have hypertension, more likely to have diabetes and more likely to die.

The uncounted deaths from New York City reflect what officials had warned of back in the earlier days of the pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in early April they were well aware that the countrywide deaths do not tell the full story.

“The current data on presumptive and lab-confirmed cases and deaths are underestimates,” CDC spokesman Scott Pauley said on Monday. “Right now, we believe that the number of deaths we have reported paints an informative picture of the scope of epidemic.”

New York City Councilman Mark Levine echoed the sentiment.

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