Hospital officials address COVID-19 surge, plead with New Mexicans to get vaccinated

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Health experts at hospital systems around the state are urging New Mexicans to get vaccinated.

"In Presbyterian, statewide, we’re experiencing a doubling every week," said Dr. Denise Gonzales, the medical director at Presbyterian Healthcare Services. "Three weeks ago we had about 22 patients, last week about 45. This week we have had nearly 90 patients hospitalized with COVID-19."

With the rise in COVID-19 cases, health officials at Presbyterian, UNM and Lovelace are asking for the public’s help to slow the spread.

"We really don’t want to have further surging, increased number of patients in our hospitals," said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the chief medical officer at Lovelace. "We have many, many very sick, high acuity patients in our hospitals."

Hospitals are reverting to more restrictive visitor policies, while keeping in place those same procedures that helped mitigate the spread of the virus last year.

"While we have a tremendous amount of experience and we know how to keep our hospital and our staff safe, we’re also in a climate where we’re dealing with an entirely different virus in terms of its transmissibility and also a slightly altered population," said Dr. Rohini McKee, the chief quality and safety officer with UNM Hospital.

Health officials said hospitals are already full – not due to COVID-19 patients, but because of all the patients who deferred care during the pandemic last year. Officials said it’s unclear whether or not the state could see another call to postpone elective procedures.

"We also don’t want to defer too many, quote ‘elective’ cases because then some of those cases turn into urgent cases, which is not something we want for our patients," Gonzales said.

Staffing is also adding another layer of concern.

"There’s much less availability right now for us, any of us, to hire more staff. There’s just not the same availability of traveler nurses," Gonzales said.

Therefore, hospital officials are pleading with New Mexicans to get vaccinated.

"So if you are grateful to health care workers, please go get vaccinated. That’s our message to you," McKee said.

Health experts said there is a clear trend – those who are not vaccinated are more likely to end up in the hospital.

"There is an indication that we’re back in another surge," Gonzales said. "Evidence shows that COVID-19 in now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. In New Mexico, 93% of hospitalizations are in the unvaccinated."

Early in the pandemic, COVID-19 hit older New Mexicans with underlying health conditions the hardest. Now, hospital officials are seeing a shift in those demographics.

"We’re seeing people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s," Sandoval said. "We’re seeing people who do not have chronic, underlying, immuno-compromising diseases. They are people who are relatively healthy, who are not vaccinated, who have been exposed, who are now developing severe disease."

Health officials even noted an increase in pediatric cases.