April 30, 2020

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It’s easy to hook readers with a shocking statistic, and I recently saw one that left my jaw hanging. But then I saw that PolitiFact gave it a closer look.

A recent study garnered headlines when it reported a high mortality rate for patients on ventilators in one New York health care network.

The study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, followed 5,700 coronavirus patients who had been admitted to 12 Northwell Health hospitals in metropolitan New York between March 1 and April 4.

The finding that painted the grimmest picture, and attracted the most media attention, was about the likelihood that patients put on ventilators would die. Ventilators are medical devices that help patients with compromised lung function continue to breathe. Patients are connected to the ventilator through a breathing tube inserted into the airway, a procedure known as intubation.

The study found that only 38 ventilator patients recovered and were released, compared with 282 who died. That works out to a death rate of 88%.

But there was an important detail that got glossed over in some of the initial coverage: 831 patients remained in the hospital and were excluded from the calculation. That’s more than 72% of all the patients involved in the study. So for the vast majority of patients studied, the jury is still out on whether they will recover.

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.

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Alex Mahadevan is director of MediaWise at the Poynter Institute. He has taught digital media literacy to thousands of middle and high schoolers, and has…
Alex Mahadevan

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