As hospitalizations and positive cases continue to climb during a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the Garden State, New Jersey's hospitals say they're in a much better position to tackle the crisis than they were several months ago.

A study of more than 27,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, conducted by New Jersey Hospital Association's Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation, finds the mortality rate dropped significantly between the spring and late summer, along with the rate of patients in need of interventions such as ventilation.

Over the same period, and perhaps a reason for the improving numbers, the ages of hospital patients shifted to younger, less vulnerable brackets.

"New Jersey healthcare providers on the front lines actually wrote the playbook in many ways for how we treat patients with COVID," said Kerry McKean Kelly, NJHA's vice president of communications. "They developed treatment protocols — things like proning, which means making sure a patient is just resting on their stomach instead of their back because that helps them breathe."

New therapeutics entered as treatment options in the months since COVID-19 first began making an impact at hospitals in March, Kelly added.

According to the CHART analysis, more than a quarter of New Jersey's hospitalized COVID-19 patients died during the the month of April. Just 6% perished in July through August.

In April, about one in five patients required ventilation for supplemental oxygen, while about 16% required intubation. In August, use of those strategies had fallen to 15.7 and 3.9%, respectively.

The analysis does not point to specific reasons for the positive numbers, but Kelly suggested the mortality rate has declined, at least in part, because the state's hospitals were dealing with younger, and therefore less vulnerable, patients as the pandemic advanced past the spring months.

The 18-29 demographic represented just 3% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in April. By August, the group represented 13% of cases. At the same time, the patient share of 60-to-74-year-olds dropped from 32.6 to 21.8%.

"I find reassurance in these findings as New Jersey hospitals hone their treatment and response to the novel virus," said NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett. "However — and I can't stay this strongly enough — New Jersey faces a difficult pandemic winter, and we cannot relax the precautions we all must take against this virus."

The CHART analysis also noted that kidney disease/impairment was the most prevalent disability among COVID-19 patients who died between April and August.

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