Doctor: COVID patients may not know their oxygen levels are down until too late

Dr. Joleen Aguon during Monday afternoon's news conference.

Officials today warned that in some COVID-19 cases, patients may not know that their oxygen levels are down until it is too late.

This may have been what happened to the latest trend of COVID victims arriving dead on arrival at the hospital.

Dr. Joleen Aguon, GMH Associate Administrator Clinical Services, said the dead on arrival COVID victims may have had something called “silent hypoxia” — a condition where there is low oxygen to tissues.

“At day six of exposure to COVID, you generally have symptoms of dyspnea — difficult or labored breathing. You feel short of breath and by day eight of that exposure, they are admitted into the hospital. If that shortness of breath or respiratory failure continues to progress, they are admitted into the ICU between days 10 and 12,” Dr. Aguon said during the governor’s Monday news conference.

But if you have silent hypoxia, Aguon said that you won’t feel that your oxygen level is low.

“You have no idea that your oxygen levels are critically low in your tissues. And so the advice that I give to the community is, if you test positive for COVID, you should purchase a pulse oximeter, which measures your oxygen level. On day five and on from your exposure, you should check your oxygen level several times during the day because you will not know that your oxygen levels are that low and that’s what I think is contributing to these dead on arrival cases,” Aguon said.

The doctor said an oxygen level below 95 is already a cause for concern. She told the story of a patient who had an oxygen level of 65 but whose main complaint was not shortness of breath but fatigue.

“COVID is an incredibly smart virus because it can attack just about every organ system in the body. Patients can come in with acute strokes, they can come in with heart attacks. They can come in with everything that we could normally have without a virus. And it’s just because there is no oxygen getting to those tissues, and that’s the bottom line. So if by the fifth day, you are starting to feel more short of breath, please, get a pulse oximeter, and check your oxygen saturations,” Aguon said.

She added: “Your magic number is less than 95. If that number is less than 95, you need to go into the hospital because you qualify for treatments that improve mortality. But I think the bottom line here is to get your vaccination because it’s very clear that the patients that are getting hospitalized in critical condition in the ICU, in the critical care unit, are those that are unvaccinated.”