NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – So far this year, New Mexicans have seen COVID-19 cases decline statewide. As more people get vaccinated, there’s another trend among the state’s elder population in long-term care facilities; this time it’s a good sign. “We’re starting to trend down in our death rates,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Cabinet Secretary for the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
On Sunday, New Mexico’s Long-Term care industry reached a new milestone in the daily pandemic updates; zero new COVID-19 cases, and zero new deaths reported. “We think that the acceptance rate for the vaccine is an extremely good sign,” said Hotrum-Lopez. “They’re no longer vulnerable to what happens on the outside of the facility like they have been for months,” she added.
Toward the end of 2020, COVID-19 data painted a grim picture for New Mexicans. In November, daily press releases from the New Mexico Department of Health announced close to 30 COVID-related deaths per day, thousands of new daily cases, and updates included long lists of statewide long-term care facilities with known COVID-positive cases. “It has been really devastating to our elderly, and our seniors, and adults with disabilities, with underlying health conditions – that is no doubt,” said Hotrum-Lopez.
According to a state epidemiology report, 18.4% of people 75-and older who contracted COVID in New Mexico have died. It’s the highest case-fatality rate by age-group by more than double. The case fatality rate for COVID-cases among people 65-74 in New Mexico is 6.4%.
On December 28, 2020, the state of New Mexico started vaccinating for COVID in long-term care facilities. By January 25, all 309 of the state’s long-term care facilities had their first vaccine clinic.
“I think there’s a combination, there’s not one silver bullet,” explained Hotrum-Lopez. “You know the vaccines are a big part of giving people hope and saving lives, but certainly infection control, our monoclonal antibody therapy that is going on in these facilities is also giving hope,” she added.
Hospital administrators said on Monday they’ve noticed a decline in hospitalizations for those 75 and older. “Whether that’s attributable to the general decline in cases or the vaccinations specifically, I think we need some more data to be able to definitively say one way or the other,” said UNM Hospital Chief Quality and Safety Officer, Dr. Rohini McKee.
Hotrum-Lopez said on Monday, 96-97% of New Mexico’s nursing home and alternative living facility residents have accepted the vaccine. For long-term care facility staff, vaccine acceptance is between 65-70%, much higher than the national average according to the CDC.
While health officials can’t attribute the decline in cases and deaths solely to the vaccine, they’re hopeful this downward trend will continue. “We definitely hope to see this continue,” said Hotrum-Lopez.
Long-term care facilities still use county positivity rates in the red, yellow, green framework to determine visitation policies. Counties in the yellow allow one visitor at a time with COVID-safe practices like mask-wearing and social distancing in place.