Understanding the distribution of organ failure before and during the COVID-19 pandemic surge can provide a deeper understanding of how the pandemic strained health care systems and affected outcomes.
To assess the distribution of organ failure in 3 New York City hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A retrospective cohort study of adult admissions across hospitals from February 1, 2020, through May 31, 2020, was conducted. The cohort was stratified into those admitted before March 17, 2020 (prepandemic) and those admitted on or after that date (SARS-CoV-2–positive and non–SARS-CoV-2). Sequential Organ Failure Assessment scores were computed every 2 hours for each admission.
A total of 1 794 975 scores were computed for 20 704 admissions. Before and during the pandemic, renal failure was the most common type of organ failure at admission and respiratory failure was the most common type of hospital-onset organ failure. The SARS-CoV-2–positive group showed a 231% increase in respiratory failure compared with the prepandemic group. More than 65% of hospital-onset organ failure in the prepandemic group and 83% of hospital-onset respiratory failure in the SARS-CoV-2–positive group occurred outside intensive care units. The SARS-CoV-2–positive group showed a 341% increase in multiorgan failure compared with the prepandemic group. Compared with the prepandemic and non–SARS-CoV-2 patients, SARS-CoV-2–positive patients had significantly higher mortality for the same admission and maximum organ failure score.
Most hospital-onset organ failure began outside intensive care units, with a marked increase in multiorgan failure during pandemic surge conditions and greater hospital mortality for the severity of organ failure.