NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – State health officials outlined New Mexico’s latest COVID-19 trends during a virtual news conference Monday afternoon, showing the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues at a level that’s putting too much pressure on hospitals. In response, the state has enacted a new order giving New Mexico medical facilities the green light to enact new patient treatment policies under “crisis standards of care.”

The update marks the first public address health leaders have made since October 6, when data indicated the state had hit a plateau or a sustained number of new COVID cases, and health leaders still have many of the same concerns. Earlier this month, New Mexico’s Acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said it was “a huge problem because of the state our hospitals are in and have been in all this whole time.”

“We’re now in week six of a plateau or a gradual rise in cases,” Dr. Scarse said Monday. “We’ve been through a big wave (November/December 2020,) now we’re in another wave that unfortunately is just as crushing to hospitals as that big wave was.”

Last week, New Mexico’s epidemiology reports published on October 11 indicated 184 people were admitted to New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19 between Oct. 4 and 11. That was just 3 fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations from the week before that, from Sept. 27 through Oct. 4.

Dr. Scrase said Monday the state remains stuck at a level of cases, mostly among the unvaccinated, that’s more than hospitals can handle. Just two ICU beds were available in the Albuquerque-metro area Monday morning.

“I think it’s important to pause for a minute and say, ‘how can things be so bad in hospitals when it seems like the level of COVID-admissions is less than half of what they were before?'” Scrase said Monday. “The answer to that question is the people in the hospital are as sick as they have ever been, sicker than they have ever been and we have a lot more people in the hospital right now with non-COVID-related illnesses.”

As of October 11, state data shows New Mexico racked up 5,236 known new cases of COVID-19 in the week prior. “Almost 1,000 people have died (from COVID-19) in New Mexico since February first that didn’t need to die had they been vaccinated and that really is a tragedy,” Scrase said. “It’s something that’s avoidable.”

Monday, New Mexico enacted crisis standards of care for the second time in the pandemic, opening the door for hospitals to use a standardized procedure allowing medical staff to pick and choose who needs care, based in part on available resource and a patient’s likely level of survivability among other measures.

“The state is not closing down medically necessary procedures,” Scrase said. “But we’re saying to hospitals if you get to the point where true care rationing is happening, then you have to suspend those.”

As of Monday, no New Mexico hospitals had begun using crisis standards of care criteria. In a news release Monday, the Department of Health said additional clarifying documents about CSC will be available on the DOH website in the coming days. Scrase said the treating provider is the one who will decide if a procedure is medically necessary.

On the vaccine front, 81.1% of New Mexicans age 18 and older and 62% of New Mexicans aged 12 to 17 have now received at least one dose of a vaccine. About 5.3% of New Mexicans 18 and older have received a booster dose. In total, 81,364 third doses have been administered by NMDOH between August 1 and October 13. The state believes there are roughly 364,000 people who are eligible to receive booster shots right now in New Mexico.

“We’re in the process of getting some contracts for having third-party vendors come and help us with putting up more vaccine sites, as well as some mobile teams,” said Dr. Laura Parajón, a deputy secretary for NMDOH. “We’re quite sure why the number isn’t as high as we would hope it would be.”