ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – State health officials, including New Mexico’s Human Services and acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, addressed the state’s continued effort to fight COVID-19 Wednesday afternoon. By next week, the state’s hospital system is expected to reach “crisis standards of care” status, meaning some patients may soon deal with trouble finding an open hospital bed.
Story continues below:
- Business: San Mateo retail center getting revitalized with movie theater, restaurants
- Don’t Miss: City of Albuquerque opens affordable pet care clinic
- Education: Rio Rancho school board candidate defends email to parents
- Marijuana: High potency marijuana and possible impact on New Mexico teens
- KRQE en Espanol: KRQE en Espanol: Miercoles 17 de Septiembre 2021
“What it means is any of the normal routine services you would get for non-life-threatening emergencies may be less available,” said Dr. Scrase. “But in the end, what it really means is that we’re going to have to choose who gets care, who doesn’t get care, and we do not want to get to that point.”
The state was last in crisis standards of care status in December 2020 during the height of the last COVID case surge. The state’s latest rough outlook on the effect of a growing number of COVID-19 cases comes as health officials say for the first time ever, New Mexico is dealing with an ICU waitlist. As of Wednesday, that waitlist was comprised of around 50 people all in need of ICU hospital rooms. Dr. Scrase says people in Farmington, Las Cruces and Albuquerque will feel the brunt of the lack of available ICU beds.
“It’s a completely new phenomenon,” Dr. Scrase said. “You don’t take a lot of people off a waiting list when all of your beds are full, and that’s the problem.”
New Mexico reported 433 people in the hospital with COVID-19 Wednesday. The last time the state saw comparable numbers of hospitalizations as cases trended upward was around November 8, 2020. Earlier this month, Dr. Christine Ross said the increase in COVID-19 cases “looks similar to what (the state) saw prior to (New Mexico’s) worst surge to date in the winter.”
Most of the COVID-19 cases continue to emerge among the unvaccinated. State health officials presented data Wednesday indicating since February 1, 2021, 89.9% or 44,684 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico have occurred among the unvaccinated. Just 5,005 COVID cases have been reported among the vaccinated in that same time frame.
Meanwhile, 92.1% or 3,098 COVID-19 hospitalizations since February 1, 2021, have occurred in unvaccinated populations in New Mexico. Just 264 vaccinated people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in that same timeframe.
“The projection for the next two weeks shows another about 20 percent increase, to 30 percent increase in hospitalizations,” Dr. Scrase said Wednesday. “We don’t have room for those folks, we don’t have room for those New Mexicans, and we working to do everything we possibly can to make more room, but we are just running out of rooms and of course out of staff to take care of patients.”
In the last month, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than tripled, from 121 people on July 27 to 433 people on August 25. Another contributing factor to the hospital crunch is a lack of nursing staff. The state says it’s continuing with plans to address the issues by working with FEMA to recruit more traveling nurses to the state.
State health officials are expecting southeast New Mexico to see more issues dealing with COVID-19 in the coming weeks. The area’s seven-day average is rapidly approaching 280 cases per 100,000 people, per day. That rate is about five times higher than that of the northwest region of New Mexico.
“We have seen case rates in the hundreds in both Eddy and Lea counties,” Dr. Scrase said. “That means every ten days, one percent of the population will be infected and we have not seen those kinds of rates in a sustained fashion ever in the history of this pandemic.”
Dr. Scrase pointed to low vaccinations rates in southeast New Mexico during Wednesday’s news conference. Meanwhile, the northwest region by comparison has vaccinated many more of its residents following aggressive local campaigns, including on the Navajo Nation.
“You can see we’re rapidly approaching 280 cases per 100,000 people per day (in southeast New Mexico,)” Dr. Scrase said. “Almost two-thirds of people in the northwest region are fully vaccinated and less than 50% in the southeast region.”
Dr. Scrase says the state continues tracking along Los Alamos National Lab’s worst-case scenario model for community spread. Those projections show by early September, the state will reach between 1,300 to 1,500 new COVID cases per day, and an average of 2 to 6 new deaths per day.
On Wednesday, the state reported 770 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths. Among the 433 people hospitalized, the state says the number may include individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico.
Meanwhile, the FDA this week gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. More than 76% of New Mexicans 18 and older have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 67% of New Mexicans 18 and older are now considered fully vaccinated.
Alongside Dr. Scrase, Wednesday’s conference featured State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross and NMDOH Deputy Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón joining in on the discussion. You can watch the entire 2-hour news conference in the video posted below.