According to a new study conducted by doctors from two hospitals in New York City (Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian) about 1 in 7 pregnant women admitted to maternity wards in Northern Manhattan in March and April tested positive for COVID-19.
That statistic is scary. Terrifying even. 1 in 7 seems like a lot of pregnant women getting sick. So yes, it’s a substantial percentage. Yes, everyone (like ev. er. y. one—not just pregnant women, and not just NYC residents) needs to continue taking this very seriously.
But there are slivers of good news (or at least hope) in the data about pregnant women and COVID-19, as reported from medical experts like Dr. Daniel Roshan, M.D., F.A.C.O.G, F.A.C.S, Director, ROSH Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Dena Goffman, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and chief of obstetrics at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. (And obviously, with titles that long, these two know their shit.)
Both Dr. Roshan and Dr. Goffman say pregnant women need to take alllllll the precautions, but they also had some encouraging things to say.
First of all, NYC is bearing the brunt of this mess by being our country’s epicenter of COVID-19 cases, so it’s not surprising that this city and its surrounding boroughs have a high percentage of pregnant women testing positive. Thankfully, though, New York hospitals are all over it and are doing literally every single thing they can do to contain the virus, protect their patients (both inside and outside the womb), and stamp this motherfucker out for good.
For one, at hospitals like NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, every single woman admitted into the labor and delivery unit is tested for the SARS-CoV-2 infection upon admission. This is vital, as many of the women who tested positive were completely asymptomatic, yet necessitated extra safety precautions so they didn’t spread it to others.
So, like the rest of the population, not all pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 become gravely ill. In fact, many show no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Specifically, Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian obstetricians are finding that so far, pregnant women may fare no worse than others with COVID-19 as the stats tend to follow very similar trends.
“Among 43 confirmed COVID-19 obstetrical patients, the most women (86%) experienced mild disease, four (9.3%) exhibited severe disease, and two (4.7%) developed critical disease. These figures are similar to those described for non-pregnant adults with COVID-19 (about 80% mild, 15% severe, and 5% critical disease),” their report finds.
Also, Dr. Roshan tells Scary Mommy that there is currently no evidence of in-utero transfer of the virus, nor are there signs of transfer through breast milk. And even the New York Department of Health affirms that “small studies suggest that the virus does not pass from parent to fetus across the placenta during pregnancy (known as ‘vertical transmission’). Other studies suggest that blood-borne transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely.”
So there’s more promising news for pregnant mothers.
But Dr. Goffman cautions that we need to remain concerned about COVID-19 in pregnant women, despite these encouraging early reports. Because, though it’s great that such a high percentage only became mildly ill, and as much as it gives us hope to hear that there is no evidence of COVID-19 getting passed in utero, there continues to be a small percentage of pregnant women and babies who don’t fare so well when forced to fight this beast. Women admitted into the labor and delivery wards of hospitals are about to bring the most vulnerable and innocent into the world, and their own bodies are about to undergo unknown physical challenges, as one never really can predict how a labor and delivery will go and whether there will be complications.
Also, like every other piece of the 2020 pandemic puzzle, even though certain numbers and percentages look promising, the truth is there hasn’t been time to do a whole lot of research yet on how this virus impacts pregnancy and the overall health of the mother, fetus, and newborn. The studies conducted so far have been small. And while they’re valuable, the truth is, there is still so much we don’t know.
“Our findings must be interpreted with caution until more data become available,” Dr. Goffman warns.
One precautionary measure that hospitals are taking is heartbreaking, but necessary: If a woman does test positive, doctors are recommending she quarantine in complete isolation, meaning without her baby.
“Patients with active disease or who have had COVID-19 symptoms in the past 72 hours will be placed in negative pressure rooms in isolation and health care workers will be limited to her doctor and nurse wearing PPE,” Dr. Roshan tells Scary Mommy. “It is recommended that baby will be kept away until the mother has no symptoms for 72 hours. Those who are actively sick should pump and not breast feed directly.”
He does go on to add, however, that “if the mother refuses this after counseling, the baby will be given to the mother.”
What a gut-wrenching choice for mothers right now, but this is the reality for pregnant women as we ride out this pandemic.
So what can pregnant women do right now to best protect themselves and the lives of their babies? Well, Dr. Roshan says, a lot of the same things everyone is told to do, basically—social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and wearing gloves. Dr. Roshan also adds that drinking warm liquids and taking Vitamin C, D, and Zinc supplements are extra health and safety measures pregnant women could take to combat COVID-19.
In the end, especially in hotbed areas like NYC, you could do everything right and still get it. “Unfortunately this is a very highly infective virus and avoiding it seems to be a difficult task,” Dr. Roshan says. “Luckily, most pregnant patients are young and healthy and will likely recover if they contract COVID-19, so they should not panic if tested positive.”
Especially if they’re in a hospital where they are surrounded by dedicated medical doctors and nurses who will stop at nothing to help them through it.