The Associated Press & Patrick Hayes
Updated: January 19, 2021 06:19 PM
Created: January 19, 2021 05:35 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A recent decrease in statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations is not enough to ease up on mask wearing, social distancing or other measures aimed at curbing spread, top officials with New Mexico’s largest health care providers said Tuesday.
The number of people hospitalized in New Mexico due to the virus was just over 640 on Tuesday, slightly higher than the day before but still one of the lowest levels in months.
But hospital officials described the recent decrease as more of a plateau, saying modeling suggests they could continue to see increases through February.
“The plateau that we’ve reached currently is at a very high level, and as we were saying earlier we can’t afford a further surge, an increase in patients to come back,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, Lovelace Health System’s chief medical officer. “We’ll be back in a situation where we’re going to be very, very tight on beds. So even though we have a plateau currently, it’s not a great sense of comfort to all of our facilities at this time.”
In northwestern New Mexico, officials said coronavirus-related hospitalizations have not let up. Hospitals elsewhere remain at capacity with patients who need care for other medical emergencies.
CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe has seen somewhat of a decrease in patients in its specialized COVID-19 unit. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gonzales said that has allowed the hospital to open up parts of that unit to serve other patients.
Another challenge has been balancing demands on the health care workforce, which is dealing with COVID-19 duty, a seasonal surge of other illnesses and the need to ramp up vaccination efforts. Traveling nurses are still being used and some employees are working overtime to help with vaccinations, said Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, the chief patient safety officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
Presbyterian and other providers are coordinating with state health officials to set up large vaccine distribution sites now that New Mexico has expanded eligibility for the shots. For example, a vaccine clinic is ramping up at the University of New Mexico’s arena in Albuquerque, also known as The Pit.
Hospitals usually receive their vaccine allocations at the beginning of the week with little advance notice of exactly how many doses they will be getting. Gonzales said that makes planning difficult.
Still, New Mexico has among one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., having administered more than 143,000 doses so far.
New Mexico has confirmed nearly 165,000 COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began while deaths are approaching the 3,000 mark. That includes a Dona Ana County woman in her 30s who was among the 20 additional deaths reported Tuesday.
Spread rates also are still far above New Mexico’s targets for reopening, and public health mandates are expected to remain in place for many months for the state’s most populated areas.
New Mexico lawmakers began their virtual 60-day legislative session Tuesday, with the pandemic response and relief efforts expected to be priorities.
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