ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s major hospitals gave a status update on Monday on where the state stands with COVID-19 as more people line up to get vaccinated. While caseloads and hospitalizations remain high, doctors from UNM, Presbyterian, and Lovelace all say the COVID-19 vaccine is giving frontline workers a huge morale boost.

“I can’t over-emphasize the joy and relief that our workforce has had with the advent of the vaccination,” explained Dr. David Pitcher, Executive Physician with UNM Health System.

As more frontline hospital workers receive their second COVID-19 vaccine dose from Pfizer, doctors from the University of New Mexico, Presbyterian, and Lovelace all said the added layer of protection helped alleviate some stress in the state’s hospitals.

“It was an immediate boost in morale,” said Dr. Denise Gonzales, Medical Director for Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “People finally had hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel, that perhaps we could become more normal by the end of this year.”

And as the state moves into the next phase for vaccines, more staff from the first phase are signing up too. “We have seen some increased interest in people who originally said, ‘You know I’m not sure about taking the vaccine,’ and had some reluctance,” explained Dr. Vesta Sandoval, Lovelace Chief Medical Officer. “And now that I think they’ve seen their colleagues take the vaccine without problems, we’ve had additional people sign up for their first doses.”

Lovelace has vaccinated roughly 65% of its workforce. UNMH reports closer to 80% of its staff is now vaccinated. Presbyterian Healthcare Services reports it has administered 11,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far.

While daily COVID case counts trended downward over the past month, hospital staff says this is ‘high season’ for hospitalizations for other illnesses and they’re still ‘exceptionally’ full. “The added strain of additional COVID patient volume has really kept us in a place where we’re continuously well over our licensed capacity,” said Dr. Pitcher.

Some good news – hospital officials reported much lower flu numbers so far this season. Tricore labs reports a 36% drop in positive flu tests in 2020 compared to 2019.

Doctors attributed the low flu numbers to a high number of people getting the flu vaccine. For example, Lovelace reported 98% of its facility staff got a flu shot.

Dr. Sandoval said the reduction in flu cases is also attributed to COVID-safe practices like mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing, which help stop the spread of the flu as well as COVID-19.

“We were both very grateful that the rates of influenza are particularly low and we hope that New Mexicans will remember that they were able to also bend the curve on influenza just by wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands, and getting flu shots,” said Dr. Gonzales.

Each hospital says they are also vaccinating first responders even if they’re not employed by the hospitals.

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