New study finds more people die of COVID on certain days of the week

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Global COVID-19 deaths on weekends have been higher than on weekdays during the pandemic, a study has found.

The researchers admitted delays in reporting may be a contributing factor, but said weekend shortages of clinical staff, capacity and experience were also likely to play a role.

Overall, the average number of coronavirus deaths worldwide was 6% higher on weekends than on weekdays – 8,532 compared to 8,083 – throughout the pandemic, researchers said.

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Experts from the University of Toronto in Canada analyzed all deaths reported to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 database between March 7, 2020 and March 7, 2022.

The findings, which are due to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Portugal later this month, suggest the US recorded an average of 1,483 weekend deaths compared to 1,220 on weekdays, an increase of 22%.

Weekend shortages of clinical and experience staff may be behind the additional deaths. Credit: AAP

Brazil recorded an average of 1,061 weekend deaths compared to 823 on weekdays, an increase of 29%, and the United Kingdom recorded an average of 239 weekend deaths compared to 215 on weekdays, an increase of 11% .

Further study looking at the average number of COVID deaths on individual days of the week found the increase was particularly large when comparing Sunday to Monday – 8,850 vs. 7,219 deaths – and Friday to Monday – 9,086 vs. 7,219 .

One of the researchers, Dr Fizza Manzoor, said delays in reporting weekend deaths do not fully explain the differences between different countries – with Germany reporting fewer average weekend deaths ( 137) compared to weekdays (187).

File image of an intensive care unit (ICU) for patients with COVID-19.
File image of an intensive care unit (ICU) for patients with COVID-19. Credit: Radek Petrasek/PA

“Bureaucratic delays over the weekend cannot alone explain why there are fewer documented COVID-19 deaths on Monday compared to Friday, and notification delays alone cannot explain why the increase in Weekend deaths have been so prominent in the United States and not seen in Germany.” said Manzoor.

“Instead, the ‘weekend effect’ is also likely to be due to shortages of clinical staff, capacity and experience. Moreover, our findings suggest that this issue is not resolving despite improved health system performance and awareness during the pandemic.

“There is an opportunity for health systems to further improve clinical care every day of the week.”

The researchers accepted that the conclusions of the study, which was peer-reviewed, could be limited by false negative results, missed cases and data entry errors, and that the available data do not take into account disease severity or explore the impact of local public health policies and interventions in each country.

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