Regardless of the mechanism, the cardiac damage resulting from COVID-19 appears to profoundly affect a patient’s chances of survival. Researchers in Wuhan, China found that 51% of patients with cardiac injury died compared to 4.5% without. Early studies also indicate that everyone, not just those with pre-existing heart problems, are at risk of COVID-19-induced cardiac damage. Although this novel coronavirus may harm the heart in the absence of respiratory distress, the combination of acute lung infection and cardiac damage is particularly dangerous.
Cities are beginning to see the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on people’s hearts. In New York City, the number of calls to EMS for cardiac arrest patients has skyrocketed. From March 30 to April 5, 2019, there were, on average, 69 cardiac calls daily, and 38% of those patients died. During the same period this year, there were, on average, 282 cardiac calls daily, and 72% died.
As Lt. Michael Toomey, a 14-year veteran of the New York Fire Department notes, the number of patients in cardiac arrest appears to be quadrupling. Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating properly and cannot deliver blood to vital organs. These patients are clinically dead and will remain so unless they receive a defibrillation shock from an automated external defibrillator. Every minute that defibrillation is delayed, a patient’s survival chances decrease by 7-10%.