Tonisha Caulder

Tonisha Caulder of Sandy Springs holds an Ultrasound image of her child she will give birth to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATLANTA — After months of sparse information on how COVID-19 can impact pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, has designated expecting mothers at higher risk of the virus.

A study released late last month by the Atlanta-based, national health agency confirmed that while limited information still exists about how coronavirus impacts pregnancy, infected pregnant women are at higher risk of severe coronavirus complications.

Among “reproductive-age women” who have tested positive for coronavirus, the CDC said, pregnancy led to increased risk of hospitalization, ICU admission and need for an emergency ventilator.

“Pregnant women might be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness,” the study concludes.

However, the CDC found no link to increased chance of death for pregnant women compared to non-pregnant women.

Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine, said during a press briefing the information is not surprising.

Jamieson worked at the CDC for 20 years studying infectious diseases and pregnancy. In that time, research found evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk for other infectious respiratory diseases such as H1NQ1 and seasonal influenza — likely due to bodily changes in the lungs during pregnancy.

However, the doctor was surprised pregnant women were not added to the list of “high-risk” groups — such as older adults or individuals with certain underlying medical conditions,

“To me, this is the most compelling evidence to date that pregnant women are at increased risk,” Jamieson said.

During the pandemic, pregnant women have faced additional challenges receiving prenatal and perinatal care. Widely varying hospital policies have created challenges surrounding who can be in the room with them during labor.

Compounded with the state’s high maternal mortality rates — especially among Black mothers — lawmakers fought to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms during the rushed end of the legislative session.

With the new information that pregnant women are susceptible to severe coronavirus illness, Jamieson said hospitals and doctors need to reiterate to patients the importance of wearing a mask, washing their hands and social distancing whenever possible.

"I think it's going to be really important for us going forward to counsel our pregnant patients about the importance of avoiding infection,” she said.

Christopher M. Zahn, vice president of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement that the new data "suggest a different level of risk for pregnant patients than was previously indicated by earlier data."

“In light of this new information from the CDC regarding the risk to pregnant patients, it is even more concerning that pregnant and lactating patients have been excluded from clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine," he said. "The new information from the CDC highlights the importance of pregnant patients being prioritized for a coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available."

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