COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns sharply increased bicycle-related injuries; gun-related injuries rose too

COVID-19 Research

Key takeaways 

  • Despite regional variations in COVID-19-related restrictions, trends in trauma center activity followed similar patterns in four trauma centers in different regions of the United States.
  • Trauma cases involving bicycle-related injuries increased 100 percent, and gunshot wounds increased 23.5 percent, during lockdown.
  • Study findings indicate allocating more resources for wellness may be a priority in future pandemic-related lockdowns.

CHICAGO – INTERNATIONAL COVID-19 – A retrospective review of 27,652 trauma cases from 2019 to 2020 at four Level I trauma centers in Orange County, California; Portland, Oregon; Miami, Florida; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, found that overall activity followed similar patterns in these locations, with cases for motor vehicle collisions declining while those for gunshot wounds and bicycle accidents increased significantly.

Despite regional variations in COVID-19-related restrictions last year during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, similar trends emerged in activity at Level I trauma centres in four different cities from the Southeast to the Northwest, according to research presented at the virtual American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2021.

The data could help inform public policy decision-making for the next pandemic, study authors said.

“We were trying to assess if the different variations in COVID-19 shutdowns across the country affected trends,” said presenter Leonardo Alaniz, a third-year medical student at the University of California, Irvine. The findings bore out the study hypothesis—that trauma centers in four different cities with different levels of pandemic restrictions demonstrated similar trauma case patterns.

“Overall, what we discovered is that there was a substantial increase in bicycle-related trauma rates of about 100 percent,” he said (p < 0.01). “We also saw an increase in gunshot wounds (GSW) by about 23.5 percent. However, we did see a substantial reduction in motor vehicle crash (MVC)-related trauma rates, about 12.7 percent.” (p values for both GSW and MVC-related trauma are <0.01.)

The trend for GSW was somewhat unexpected, senior author Cristobal Barrios, Jr., MD, FACS, said. “We thought we might see an uptick in the percentage of GSW given the percentages of MVC were down and the percentages might need to go up to cover that mechanism of injury; but we were mildly surprised that not only did the percentage go up, but the actual raw numbers of gun injuries went up,” said Dr. Barrios, a health sciences clinical professor in surgery and assistant dean of admissions at UC Irvine. “That was true across all the trauma centers that contributed data to the study.”

While the percentage changes in those three metrics varied among the individual centers, the overall trends followed the same pattern. The changes at each individual site are:

  • In Orange County, GSW increased 55 percent (p < 0.01), MVC decreased 10.2 percent (p < 0.01), and bicycle injuries increased 30.8 percent (p = 0.01).
  • In Portland, GSW increased 48.4 percent (p < 0.01), MVC decreased 21.5 percent (p < 0.01), and bicycle injuries increased 296.2 percent (p < 0.01).
  • In Tulsa, GSW increased 22.2 percent (p = 0.06), MVC decreased 5.1 percent (p = 0.39), and bicycle injuries increased 18.2 percent (p = 0.45).
  • In Miami, GSW increased 20.9 percent (p = 0.01), MVC decreased 14.5 percent (p < 0.01), and bicycle injuries increased 2.6 percent (p = 0.08).

Dr. Barrios said the trends in MVC- and bicycle-related injuries during lockdown are understandable. “People weren’t going anywhere for any real large distances because there was nowhere to go during lockdown, but maybe they were utilizing their bicycles to get around a little bit, to get some exercise, and to get out of the house,” Dr. Barrios said. In June 2020, bicycle sales increased 63 percent over the same period in 2019, the market research firm NPD gGroup, Inc. reported.*

These findings may help clinicians and policy makers to better prepare if pandemic-related restrictions are necessary in the future, Dr. Barrios said.

“We did this research to shed light on what to expect during any possible next lockdown for a pandemic and where to potentially put resources for clinicians in terms of what types of injuries might present and that might increase or decrease,” he said. “Tailoring resources was one point.”

One of the take-home findings, Dr. Barrios noted, was that more resources should be applied to addressing issues of wellness, namely stress reduction and mental health. “That might be why people were using bicycles more; to get out and get exercise and reduce their stress,” he said.

Mr. Alaniz added, “Another big contributor would be to have more green spaces in these communities—spaces where people can go out and exercise in a safe environment. That would also play a huge role in preserving the mental health of our communities.”

Study coauthors are Juan P. Hoyos and Erika Tay Lasso, MD, of the UC Irvine Department of Surgery; Shevonne Satahoo, MD, of Jackson Memorial Miller School of Medicine, Miami; Gajal Kumar, MD, FACS, of Ascension Medical Group St. John Medical Center, Tulsa; and Megan Lundeberg, MD, of Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center, Portland.

“FACS” designates that a surgeon is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

The study authors have no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Citation: Alaniz L, et al. The Effect of Coronavirus Shutdowns on Nationwide Trauma Patterns. Scientific Forum Presentation.  American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress. 2021.

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