University Hospital seeing cases of ‘COVID Crash’ or ‘COVID Cliff’ among patients

Patients experience sudden collapse after being somewhat stable

"Corona Cliff" hitting some coronavirus patients
"Corona Cliff" hitting some coronavirus patients

SAN ANTONIO – It is a sudden plummet that hits days or weeks into a coronavirus infection with such force, that some patients die before getting to the hospital.

The nosedive comes after a sort of smoldering effect, where the patient may have a fever and tightness in the chest for a week or two and not appear to be worsening.

Doctors think the phenomenon may well be what happened to Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy De La Fuente, who was sick at home with a fever one day, and then died a day or two later.

While De La Fuente likely had complications from other pre-existing conditions, the pattern of sudden collapse is becoming a concern in some cases.

“After six, seven, sometimes even 10 days, suddenly we have noticed that there’s like a surge of symptoms, and a surge in the inflammation that can be measured in the body," said Dr. Diego Maselli, medical director of respiratory care at University Hospital.

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After the surge in swelling comes the respiratory collapse. An example of how it looks can be found on early street video out of Wuhan, China that went viral. You could see people literally standing one minute and then falling face down another.

Maselli said the people tend to be young and fighting the infection with all their reserves, until the body simply gives up.

“That high is like running a marathon for many hours. There's a limit where your body just won't take anymore,” he said.

This “COVID Cliff” or “COVID Crash” doesn’t happen in every case, but staff at University Hospital have seen it enough to now monitor for it and be ready to react. Unfortunately, the reaction means an immediate move into the intensive care unit with mechanical ventilators and other aggressive measures. This tricky side to the novel coronavirus becomes very important if the patient is being cared for at home and not under hospital care, which is most often the case with people who get the virus.

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The burden of watching for a “COVID Crash” falls upon those who are helping to care for their loved one.

If you are a caregiver, be sure to monitor the patient’s temperature and respiratory rate regularly, and if those change suddenly seek medical help immediately, Maselli said.

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News for more than 22 years and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.