San Antonio doctors warn of possible ‘COVID cliff’ for patients recovering from virus

University Health sends notice of San Antonio patients becoming sicker after feeling better during recovery

(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) (Jean-Francois Badias, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – There is new information daily on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and now San Antonio doctors are observing what could be described as the “COVID cliff.”

According to University Health System, the so-called cliff can occur when a patient who has been battling COVID-19 for a week to 10 days begins to recover, but then hits a setback just as they were starting to feel better. That setback can cause the patient get much sicker.

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Dr. Diego Maselli, a specialist in critical care and internal medicine at University Health, said this is a pattern seen in some other infections.

“There is a smoldering effect and suddenly the patients get sicker quickly,” Maselli said. “The disease process is very variable. We have seen patients that are stable for up to a week, even two weeks, and within 24 to 48 hours they deteriorate quickly.”

The World Health Organization has also stated 10 days is generally not enough time for a full recovery even if a patient is feeling better.

According to the WHO, the median time from onset to clinical recovery for mild cases is approximately 2 weeks and is 3-6 weeks for patients with severe or critical disease.

The Centers for Disease Control has posted on its website the body’s immune response to a COVID-19 infection is unclear.

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University Hospital follows inflammatory markers through blood tests to treat their COVID-19 patients. Doctors also watch a patient’s vital signs and how much oxygen they require.

For people recovering at home and people who are caring for them, Dr. Maselli said the key things to monitor are the patient’s temperature and respiratory rate. If those change suddenly, they need to seek medical help.

“Not all the patients behave the same way. But definitely some present with rapidly deteriorating vital signs and increased oxygen requirements,” Maselli said. “This typically will show with increased respiratory rate and high fever and a lot of malaise, feeling terrible with body aches.”

About the Author:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.