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Fewer accidents, social distancing spur drop in trauma volumes

Apr. 23, 2020, 10:51 AM


by Paul Govern

Compared to last April, through April 19 the adult trauma service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is on track to admit 65% fewer patients from roadway accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents and pedestrians struck by autos.

“I think the cause for this big drop is that people have been staying home, plain and simple,” said Bradley Dennis, MD, interim chief, Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care. “The social distancing and shelter-at-home recommendations from the city and the state governments appear to have been largely heeded.”

On April 2, to stem the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Bill Lee issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

The VUMC trauma numbers echo numbers from the Tennessee Highway Safety Office. This month, motor vehicle accidents resulting in death or serious injury are down by half, and Tennessee is on track to see 25 fewer traffic fatalities compared to the average for the previous five Aprils.

Online dashboards from the state are updated daily with “fatal and serious injury crashes,” as well as traffic fatalities.

Based on the rate through April 18, Tennessee is projected to end this month with 243 fatal and serious injury crashes, a 49% reduction when compared to the average over the two previous Aprils.

Over the first 20 days of April, traffic fatalities in the state are down 21%, compared to the average for the first 20 days in the two preceding Aprils.

From March 29 through April 18, in all the adult trauma service at VUMC admitted 131 patients, a 22% reduction compared to the average for the same three-week period over the preceding two years.

“Unfortunately, interpersonal violence continues to happen whether we’re socially distancing or not. While we’re seeing much less blunt trauma than usual, we’re seeing the same amounts of gunshots and stabbings that we typically see,” Dennis said.

(Trauma admissions can be divided into two categories: blunt trauma, such as traffic accident injuries, and penetrating trauma, such as gunshot.)

“With COVID, the volume that initially went away for us was elderly falls. We saw a period where, except for young risk-taking age groups, people were staying indoors and not doing a whole lot,” Dennis said.

“But now those elderly falls are starting to return. Maybe it’s that the weather is getting warmer and people are doing stuff around the yard, but we’re seeing a fair number of falls off ladders and other household sorts of injuries. It implies that, even if they’re staying at home, people are getting a little bit more active.”

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