NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – State health officials say the number of new COVID-19 cases has seemingly plateaued, something that is expected to cause continued problems for New Mexico’s health care system. Over the last four weeks, New Mexico has continued to see between 400 and 1000 news COVID-19 cases per day.
“I think if you asked our hospital leadership, they would say it as bad now as when we had twice as many cases in the hospital, because we don’t have room for the ones we are taking care of now,” NMDOH’s Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We are not decreasing the number of cases and that’s a huge problem because of the state our hospitals are in and have been in all this whole time.”
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The latest plateau trend is further outlined in a state epidemiology report from October 4. New Mexico reported 838 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and 10 additional deaths. During Wednesday’s news conference, Scrase highlighted the last four weeks of new COVID-19 cases throughout the state, noting a “flat line” from August 24 through September 27.
“Our hospital personnel are incredibly exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated frankly that they are now managing a pandemic and working extra shifts and endangering their own health for what has become a preventable illness,” Dr. Scrase said. “Nobody for 100 years has to go through an 18-month crisis like this, least of all, hospital administrators, and that you can only kind of encourage people so much to hang in there and imagine that after 18 months.”
The Delta-based COVID-19 cases surge began its upslope in New Mexico around early July 2021. In late August, New Mexico reinstituted an indoor mask mandate in response to a continued number of new COVID-19 cases. That mandate was extended in September, and will likely continue past a current October expiration date. In light of the plateauing number of new COVID cases, Dr. Scrase was asked Wednesday if the state would add any additional restrictions.
“I think in terms of adding additional restrictions to change behaviors to try to reduce hospitalizations, it’s funny because, the vaccine itself is such a potent tool that it would take an awful lot of other things added up to get even halfway there (to the effectiveness of the vaccine,)” Dr. Scrase said. “I think the Governor would agree what we really need to figure out is longer-term solutions to manage this pandemic, things we can live with a year or two or three rather than flicking on-off switches for mandates.”
On the hospitalization front, last Wednesday, New Mexico reported a six-week low with just 287 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Since then, the state’s latest hospitalization report published Monday (October 4) indicated 187 people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 over the last week (Sept. 28 – Oct. 4.) However, hospitals remain full with patients beyond those who have COVID-19. Dr. Scrase said Wednesday with so few available hospital beds, many hospitals are treating patients in hallways.
“17 available ICU beds in the whole state, those fill-up every day, by the end of the day we usually have zero or one,” Dr. Scrase said. “Medical beds, we’re a little bit better, around 50-some last week, we’re up to 67, but still, it’s a major crush to our hospitals trying to manage so many people.”
State data continues to show the unvaccinated make up the majority of patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Between September 6 and October 4, 133 vaccinated individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to 798 unvaccinated individuals.
Booster vaccination for Pfizer vaccine recipients also continues to roll out across New Mexico. The state has now opened up eligibility for booster doses to people 65 and older, residents in long-term care facilities, people who are 50 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions, people aged 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions, and people 18 to 64 years old in high-risk occupation and institutional settings.
“We didn’t see the big stampede we saw when we had new vaccines,” NMDOH Deputy Director Dr. Laura Parajón said of what the state has seen so far for its booster vaccine rollout. “We are opening it up to all the people who eligible.”
The NMDOH also mentioned the upcoming schedule for federal regulators to discuss further vaccination possibility. On October 14, a federal vaccine panel will discuss the possibility of a booster shot with Moderna’s vaccine. On October 15, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also expected to be discussed for possible booster use. On October 26, a federal panel is expected to discuss a possible emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine for 5 to 11-year-old kids.