Data show spikes in COVID-19 deaths following surges in hospitalizations

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Several recent spikes in COVID-19 hospitalization numbers in North Carolina have been followed several days later by marked increases in deaths, a CBS17.com data analysis has found.

CBS17.com graphed the daily totals of hospitalization and deaths as released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which recently started disclosing how many people died of COVID-19 on each specific date.

That analysis showed several instances since mid-April in which significant spikes in single-day deaths were preceded by notable bumps in the number of people in hospitals.

That could be particularly relevant in the coming days and weeks with the number of patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus surpassing 700 three times in the past eight days, each time setting a single-day high. The most recent high came Tuesday with 716 people hospitalized.

According to a timeline published by PreventEpidemics.org — an epidemic-focused branch of public health organization Vital Strategies — it takes an average of 10 to 13 days from symptom onset of COVID-19 to hospitalization, and can take an average of 18 days from the time a person shows symptoms until death. 

Dr. William Fischer of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases said Wednesday that he would have to analyze systems-level data to know for sure if there is a connection.

Speaking in general terms, Dr. David Wohl — a professor of medicine in UNC’s infectious diseases division — said hospitalizations are “really the truest canary in the coal mine for us.”

The findings from the CBS17.com analysis appear to line up with that timeline, with several increases in hospitalizations and deaths from mid-April through late May separated by five to six days. The death totals from the end of May and early June were not included because they are still being updated by the DHHS with additional deaths.

— There were 423 people hospitalized, a single-day high at the time, on April 10. Five days later, 21 people died — the first day with more than 20 deaths — and another 24 died on April 26.

— The hospitalization numbers hovered around 550 during a three-day span from April 29 to May 1, with a maximum of 551 — another single-day  high to that point — on the first day. Six days after the start of that stretch, 24 people died on May 5.

— Hospitalizations spiked to 585 on May 19. Six days later, there were 25 deaths on May 25 — the second-deadliest day of the pandemic so far.

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