NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — In the months since the first case of COVID-19 in New York, doctors have learned a tremendous amount about the virus.

Perhaps most importantly is that the rush to incubate and put a patient on a ventilator was not always the best option, despite the massive pneumonia the coronavirus can cause.

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CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez has the latest information about the impact of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in his Max Minute report.

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Many COVID-19 patients need supplemental oxygen to prevent organ damage. So, Dr. Scott Gorenstein and Dr. David Lee of the NYU Winthrop Hospital reasoned that perhaps hyperbaric oxygen therapy might be both an effective treatment and far less invasive than a ventilator.

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is well known as a treatment for non-healing wounds and for underwater divers who suffer the bends. It involves placing a patient in a chamber and then slowly increasing the pressure of pure oxygen to twice that at sea level.

In a small safety study of 20 moderate to severe COVID-19 patients who needed significant supplemental oxygen, Dr. Gorenstein and Dr. Lee demonstrated that patients who received five hyperbaric oxygen treatments for 90 minutes each fared significantly better than similar patients who did not get the therapy. Mortality and the need for ventilators could be cut by as much as half.

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The doctors point out this was a tiny, non-randomized study that must be repeated at multiple locations. They also note that because treatments for COVID-19 have evolved and improved since the study, it may turn out that hyperbaric therapy is not needed every time. But, it is potentially an important addition to the treatment toolbox.

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