Coronavirus US: Spike in Philadelphia firearms victims amid lockdown

Philadelphia hospitals saw a 144% spike in emergency room visits for injuries due to violence and gunshot wounds while coronavirus stay-at-home orders were in place

  • Researchers looked at Philadelphia hospital trauma admissions between 2015 and 2020 – with the last year split pre-stay-at-home orders and post-orders
  • Between March 16 and May 30, during stay-at-home orders, there were 110 gunshot victims compared to 45 before orders were enacted – a 144% spike
  • Firearm patients made up 23% of all trauma patients compared to the previous high of 16% in 2018 and between 13% and 14% in years prior 
  • Black patients accounted for almost 30% of gunshot victims during stay-at-home orders compared to 18% before orders were enacted

Hospitals in Philadelphia saw an alarming spike in emergency room visits for violence and gunshot wounds amid stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that firearm victims increased by more than 20 percent from mid-March through the end of May compared to years prior.

The rise was more than 140 percent compared to the two months before COVID-19 lockdown orders were enacted. 

What’s more, gunshot patients made up nearly one-quarter of all trauma patients, up from 13 to 14 percent seen over the last five years.

The team, from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, says the findings can help public health officials and law enforcement prepare for this and try to intervene in gun violence-ridden communities to prevent injuries from occurring.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania found there were 110 gunshot victims from mid-March to late May in 2020, up from a previous high of 90 over the same time period in 2018 (file image)

‘Social disruption resulting from the pandemic and statewide stay-at-home orders deeply affects the balance in urban injury management,’ said senior author Dr Jose Pascual, an associate professor of Surgery in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care. 

‘It can also rapidly exacerbate and worsen the existing hidden pandemic of firearm injury in United States cities.’

In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the team looked at data from Philadelphia hospitals on trauma admissions between 2015 and 2020.

For the 2020 admissions, the team split the data into two time periods, the first from February 1 to March 15 – before stay-at-home orders – and the second from March 16 to May 30, during stay-at-home orders.

Trauma admissions included ‘intentional trauma,’ such as shootings, stabbings, and beatings, as well as unintentional trauma, such as falls and motor vehicle crashes. 

Overall, trauma cases fell during the stay-at-home period compared to years prior, which the researchers say is likely due to a drop in car accidents as people stayed indoors. 

Between 2015 and 2019, over the same two months, there were more than 500 cases of both intentional and unintentional trauma compared to 480 during the stay-at-home period.

However, between mid-March and late May of this year, there were 110 gunshot victims who were seen as patients compared to the previous high of 90 during this same period in 2018.

And, before the stay-at-home order in 2020, the study showed that there were just 45 gunshot victim cases from early February to mid-March, a 144 percent increase.

In addition, gunshot victims made up nearly 23 percent of trauma hospitalizations between March 16 and May 30 in 2020.

The previous record for this period was 16 percent in 2018, and otherwise fell between 13 and 14 percent during the last five years. 

People of color were most affected by the increase of intentional trauma cases, making up 77 percent of patients – up from 70 percent pre-COVID.

What’s more, black patients accounted for almost 30 percent of gunshot victims during stay-at-home orders compared to 18 percent prior. 

‘The pandemic and the subsequent stay-at-home order exacerbated the existing hidden – yet omnipresent – epidemic of urban gun violence, as young, African-American males were the primary victims we saw,’ Pascual said.  

The team hopes its research can help towns and cities prepare for what might occur with shutdown measures.

‘First, there needs to be public health and law enforcement awareness and preparation,’ Pascual said. 

‘We need greater mitigation strategies with greater prepared providers and workers in both realms who have support from federal agencies.’