Changes in SARS-CoV-2 viral load and mortality during the initial wave of the pandemic in New York City

Michael J. Satlin*, Jason Zucker, Benjamin R Baer, Mangala Rajan, Nathaniel Hupert, Luis M. Schang, Laura C. Pinheiro, Yanhan Shen, Magdalena E. Sobieszczyk, Lars F. Westblade, Parag Goyal, Martin T. Wells, Jorge L. Sepulveda, Monika M. Safford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Public health interventions such as social distancing and mask wearing decrease the incidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, but it is unclear whether they decrease the viral load of infected patients and whether changes in viral load impact mortality from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We evaluated 6923 patients with COVID-19 at six New York City hospitals from March 15-May 14, 2020, corresponding with the implementation of public health interventions in March. We assessed changes in cycle threshold (CT) values from reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests and in-hospital mortality and modeled the impact of viral load on mortality. Mean CT values increased between March and May, with the proportion of patients with high viral load decreasing from 47.7% to 7.8%. In-hospital mortality increased from 14.9% in March to 28.4% in early April, and then decreased to 8.7% by May. Patients with high viral loads had increased mortality compared to those with low viral loads (adjusted odds ratio 2.34). If viral load had not declined, an estimated 69 additional deaths would have occurred (5.8% higher mortality). SARS-CoV-2 viral load steadily declined among hospitalized patients in the setting of public health interventions, and this correlated with decreases in mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0257979
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2021


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