New Mexico nursing homes not spared from the latest COVID surge

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nursing homes are not spared from the latest COVID surge.

In New Mexico, nearly 70 nursing homes and living facilities have had at least one COVID case in the last 28 days.

These facilities were already hit hard in the early days of the pandemic. In fact, that group represents around 20% of the deaths in New Mexico.

Residents and staff were a priority when it came time for vaccinations. Most of patients and staff members are fully vaccinated. Health officials believe that is helping during this surge, but it’s not eliminating spread.

Since October 2021, there has been an increase in COVID cases at long term care facilities, according to officials with the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

“We do have a public health order requiring staff in nursing homes to be vaccinated or have an exemption or they have to have weekly testing,” said NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase.

Vaccination status for residents ranges from 85% to 96%. Still, the latest wave of cases appears to be making its way in. Health officials believe it could be from staff who come and go.

“As we age our immune system doesn’t tend to respond as robustly to vaccination,” said NMDOH Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross. “As a group they have comorbidities. So has a group they’re quite vulnerable to having a vaccine breakthrough case.”

More than 100 cases this past week were reportedly among those fully vaccinated. Officials with ALTSD said Bernalillo County facilities had the highest number of new cases, followed by Otero County and Santa Fe County.

“I don’t really know if I understand the reason why the federal government has removed all the restrictions on visitation to nursing homes. But they’ve effectively said nursing homes just need to let folks in,” Scrase said.

Health officials said vaccines have been the game changer. Officials said since the rollout, deaths in those facilities have dropped from nearly ten a day to less than one a day.

There are plans already in the works get those boosters out to the facilities that need them.