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VERIFY: How high are COVID-19 ventilator mortality rates?

News 8 can verify mortality rates in the 80% range. But, that number only represents specific hospitals and areas - and not what is being seen in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A number of COVID-19 patients have wound up so sick, they've been put on ventilators. Some studies suggest the mortality rate for people on ventilators can be as high as 90%. But some experts believe that number is skewed, and that the mortality rate for those on ventilators is actually much lower.

A study conducted in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of COVID-19, found just three out of 22 ventilated patients survived - a mortality rate of 86%.

In the UK, of 98 ventilated patients, 33 were discharged alive.The mortality rate there was 68%.

In the New York City area, one report released by the Journal of the American Medical Association found a mortality rate of 88%, though researchers later issued a clarification, saying most ventilator patients in the study were still hospitalized and the mortality rate was expected to come down as more results come in.

The bottom line-the numbers vary.

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News 8 can verify mortality rates in the 80% range. But, that number only represents specific hospitals and areas.

"That's not what we're seeing in San Diego," said Dr. Robert Owens, ICU Medical Director at UC San Diego Health. 

He said the mortality rate he's seeing is closer to about 25%. Owens said rates differ based on various factors like including age and underlying conditions, and how prepared a hospital is. 

For example, early on, places like Italy and China became overwhelmed.

"You had doctors and nurses who weren't used to taking care of patients on ventilators trying to do so and that's tough," Dr. Owens said. 

Another thing to consider is how mortality rates are calculated.

Most COVID-19 patients are on a ventilator for days, even weeks, though some published studies didn't include those patients who may have survived.

That's what happened in the New York study.

So, News 8 can verify some of the numbers are misleading.

Finally, there are medical options beyond ventilators that some hospitals, like UCSD provide. One is a technology called ECMO, which oxygenates the blood.

Dr. Owens said while the outcome isn't always one of survival, it's important to also highlight the ones that are.

"We had a 73-year-old on a ventilator who we didn't think would make it....he's home now with his family," he said.

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