New Mexico doctors warn hospitals could be overwhelmed soon as COVID-19 surge continues

Coronavirus New Mexico

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SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – On a record-breaking day with more than 1000 new COVID-19 cases added in the state, top state doctors are continuing to sound the alarm on how the virus may quickly overwhelm New Mexico hospitals in the coming weeks. During a presentation from state health officials Thursday, a doctor from one of the state’s largest health systems warned that hospital beds across New Mexico could run out in the next two months if the state continues to add high numbers of new COVID cases.

“Strikingly (in) mid-November, we would be turning on the crisis standards of care,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, Chief Medical Officer at Presbyterian Hospital. “We would have had to turn off all surgeries, turn off all elective care, and by December, we would have so many cases, we’d be at that point where we’re in MASH tents, we have outpatient people trying to do inpatient work, we’re sharing equipment.”

The dire projects come as state officials said Thursday 288 of the state’s 290 total ICU beds are occupied by all types of patients, including those with COVID-19. The number indicates that hospitals are on the tipping point of starting to expand toward surge capacity.

In what’s called an “ICU Contingency” plan, Mitchell said the state can add as many as 439 ICU beds for COVID patients. However, that plan calls for closing other areas of the hospital used for other types of care. In an ICU crisis, New Mexico hospitals can expand to 623 beds but would have to take “drastic measures” to do so, including stopping all surgeries, stopping elective procedures and likely threatening hospitals bed availability for non-COVID patients who need care like expectant mothers.

“It seems almost impossible to think, well how can be fine today and in two weeks be at absolute maximum, and at four weeks, be at a catastrophe,” said Mitchell. “And the truth is, as you look at those lines, they show you the slope and you can see how it’s going up.”

Doctor David Scrase said Thursday the next two weeks will be critical in stopping the virus’ spread. He says New Mexicans still have a chance to change the course of a hospitalization surge, but says the state is already “headed in that direction if we do nothing.”

“So, it’s even more of a stepping on the brakes,” Dr. Scrase said. “We’re going to have to work harder than we did even in the first wave when it was tough to bring things down.”

In the area of gating criteria, New Mexico’s contact tracers are now taking about two days to call people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, nearly double the expected 24-hour standard. Nearly 10% of people testing for COVID-19 are now testing positive in New Mexico, which is also nearly double the state’s 5% test positivity rate target.

Dr. Scrase also reminded New Mexicans against trick-or-treating this year. He also says that families who are visiting other relatives should all wear masks around each other.

The state is also looking to increase testing including in the Las Cruces area. Dona Ana County has added nearly a third of its total COVID cases in the last two weeks.

No changes to the current health order are expected this week. During a news conference on Oct. 20, Gov. Lujan Grisham announced that the state would be cracking down on indoor dining, retail stores, and other businesses where COVID-19 was spreading.

Businesses must now close for two weeks if they record four rapid responses in a 14-day period. Additionally, all retail spaces must close by 10 p.m. every night and state-operated museums and historical sites are now closed.

This comes as the governor said that restaurants remained a top source of spread according to contact racers. During a briefing on Wednesday, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said that the city was ramping up enforcement of the public health order which resulted in 1,469 compliance interactions over the last weekend.

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