Hospital officials encourage New Mexicans to mask up

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Health officials are encouraging the public to mask up indoors again. Local hospitals are overwhelmed with viruses impacting both children and adults.

According to officials, this situation is worse than at any point during the peak of COVID-19. During the peak of the pandemic, people were masking and taking other precautions that helped mitigate viral illnesses.

Now, with the “tripledemic” of the flu, COVID, and RSV, pediatric units are full and so are adult emergency rooms. While RSV hospitalizations have remained steady, flu cases have dramatically increased.

Officials with UNM Hospital, Presbyterian and Lovelace all said this is an extremely brutal flu season.

“There’s normal variation in the flu, year to year, depending on the strain, so you can see the peaks and troughs,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer with Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “This particular one was a heavy year, not just because of masking, but because of that variation and because people aren’t vaccinated. Fortunately, we do have the ability to stop and mitigate – that’s the vaccine. The uptake is just remarkably low.”

Typically, there is reportedly about a 50% vaccine uptake for the flu. This year, health officials said there are some communities that are below a 20% vaccine rate. Dr. Mitchell said the flu vaccine is effective and could help people from becoming dangerously sick.

“What we do know is there’s a lot of respiratory illness out there,” he said. “If we keep on like we are today, then this will continue for quite some time. If, as a community, we can really move back to some precautions – more masking in public settings and getting those vaccines out quickly – we can mitigate this as a community.”

At this time, hospitals are in the middle of making plans to expand capacity. UNM Hospital has already implemented a pop-up tent triage center to help.

Don’t know whether to go to the emergency room, urgent care, or if you can be treated at home? UNM Children’s Hospital shared the following resource below.