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COVID-19 Suspected for Surge in Medical Visits at End of 2019

FRIDAY, Sept. 11, 2020 -- There was an excess of patients with cough and respiratory complaints identified at a large U.S. health system from December 2019 to February 2020, according to a study published online Sept. 10 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Joann G. Elmore, M.D., M.P.H., from the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues conducted a retrospective observational cohort study in a large U.S. health system to examine excess patient visits for cough and hospitalizations for acute respiratory failure in December 2019 to February 2020 compared with the previous five years.

The researchers found that in the week of Dec. 22, 2019, the percentage of patients presenting with an electronic health record reason for visit containing the word "cough" to clinics exceeded the 95 percent prediction interval and was consistently above this prediction interval for all 10 weeks through February 2020. For emergency department visits and hospitalizations, similar trends were noted starting Dec. 22, 2019, with observed data exceeding the 95 percent prediction interval in six and seven of the weeks, respectively. The total number of excess cases above the 95 percent predicted forecast interval were 168, 56, and 18 for outpatient clinics, emergency departments, and hospitalizations with acute respiratory failure.

"This study identified a significant excess of patients with COVID-19-like presentations starting the last week of December 2019 and continuing through February 2020, a time period before the availability of testing or providers considered clinical diagnoses of COVID-19," the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to UpToDate.

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Posted: September 2020

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