The Corner

Health Care

Do Ventilators Help?

During this COVID-19 crisis, the rate of ventilator usage increase has gone down and remains well below projections. A few days ago, Governor Cuomo passed a special order allowing the state to seize ventilators from upstate hospitals to bring them to the hotspots in the city. The next day, he said he no longer needed additional ventilators. This was strange from a man who seemed to be moving heaven and earth to get them anywhere he could, whether from China, or Elon Musk, or from a Ford Motor Company retooled by the Defense Production Act.

There seems to be a new reluctance against treating COVID-19 patients with ventilators. Part of it is that the process of intubation itself is traumatic for patients and requires major recovery time all on its own. It’s also dangerous for the doctors themselves. But part of it may be a counter-consensus about what the virus actually does. Instead of being a pneumonia that attacks the lungs, there are some doctors theorizing that the damage COVID-19 does is to the hemoglobin in the blood, at once disabling the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other organs, and releasing iron into the body; the oxidizing effect of this may cause those “ground glass” lung pictures seen in CT scans of patients. Other scientists have disputed this hypothesis as “unsupported and implausible.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include objections to the hemoglobin hypothesis.

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