New Jersey remains under a health emergency as the COVID-19 crisis continues, but coronavirus deaths, hospital admissions and the number of patients in intensive care on ventilators continue to trend downward.

Health experts point to social distancing as the main reason why, but treatment of COVID-19 in our hospitals has also improved since the start of the pandemic in March.

“We have learned a ton. It’s been a long journey,” said Dr. Keith Rose, director of critical care medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center.

He said physicians now recognize there are different phases of COVID-19 and “some of the treatments we have, what’s been working and not working, is really how well we time it. Certain treatments seem to be better early.”

He said some antiviral drugs including Remdesivir seem to work well early on when COVID-19 patients first begin to develop serious problems. Anti-inflammatory medications and some steroids are being used when patients start getting short of breath, typically in the second week of illness.

Rose said that ventilators can be used to save lives but they can also pose a risk for infections and complications, so some COVID-19 patients have been given alternative oxygen treatments.

Dr. Matthew Lissauer, the chairman of the critical care committee at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, said patients with almost any disease causing trouble breathing are usually put on a ventilator. But that may not always be necessary with COVID-19.

“What we’ve learned with COVID-19 pneumonia is that the longer we can hold that off, some of those patients we don’t have to put on a ventilator," he said. “There are non-invasive ways to ventilate a patient with a little bit of pressure without a ventilator that have been helping.”

He pointed out doctors have known for years about the benefits of prone positioning — facing a patient chest down on the bed.

“With COVID-19, what we’ve learned is that if we use that modality even earlier before they get on the ventilator, we’re able to keep some people off of the ventilator and that’s a huge win for this disease,' Lissauer said.

“By putting somebody on their stomach it allows the blood to circulate in a way that it matches the areas where the oxygen is better, so the lungs are more effective at oxygenating the blood."

Rose saidCOVID-19 can be a serious disease but "we have a much better idea of how to treat this disease. It’s still a really horrible illness, but with the right treatment we’ve been saving lives.”

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