Rates for treating out-of-hospital emergency cardiac events are lower during the pandemic

An ambulance speeds down a city street.

When the heart stops beating, emergency medical care is required within minutes to sustain the heart’s rhythm and function. A study of 50,000 U.S. adults finds the chance of restoring a person’s pulse for 20 minutes after sudden cardiac arrest is lower during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic compared to 2019.

The researchers found an 18% reduced rate of restoring a person’s pulse after their heart stops beating and a 17% reduced survival rate in January-April 2020 compared to January-April 2019. Areas hit hardest by the pandemic, defined as locations with higher COVID-19 death rates, had a 21-33% reduced rate for restoring someone’s pulse after their heart stopped beating in 2020 compared to 2019. These counties also saw higher cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests during the pandemic. Areas least affected by COVID-19 didn’t experience as many changes in cardiac arrest rates, but had a 11-15% reduction in resuscitating patients in 2020 compared to 2019.

The researchers note additional studies are needed to explain why resuscitation rates changed during the pandemic. For example, emergency medical providers now use extra screening questions and safety protocols to protect frontline health workers from unnecessary COVID-19 exposure, which may contribute to the changes. The study, partially supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, appears in JAMA Cardiology.