ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The death rate of people in the hospital being treated for COVID has gone up, so what is behind the rise? The state’s top doctor said the increase in deaths may be due to efforts to treat those who are not as sick at home.

Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department said the death rate for COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Mexico has gone up, jumping from a steady 16% to nearly 19% last week. “It may be a reflection of what we are doing is actually working in keeping less sick people out of the hospital now,” Scrase said.

Scrase said there are several contributing factors. He said there’s been a resurgence of cases in older people. Scrase said the more older people are in the hospital, the more likely the mortality rate is to increase. In addition, the state is expanding at-home treatments for patients who are less sick. “We are segregating a safer group of people to treat in the out-patient setting through hospital-at-home programs,” Scrase said.

He said there are criteria for at-home treatment. Peoples’ oxygen levels have to be pretty high, and blood pressure has to be good. “That means the less sick people are staying out of the hospital,” Scrase said.

This at-home treatment could be anything from a doctor and nurse visiting the home or someone going to an infusion center daily to get Remdesivir and returning home. It also could now include a new monoclonal antibody treatment which he said lowers peoples’ chances of being hospitalized by 75%. “It is an even more profound reduction for people who are significantly obese or over the age of 65,” Scrase said.

Scrase said the monoclonal antibodies are more reliable than convalescent plasma, and they are working to start using this treatment in places like nursing homes. “It is going to allow us to potentially reduce hospitalizations which is really helpful at a time where we are struggling with that number right now,” Scrase said.

Scrase said the antibody treatment is available to people 12 and over who have symptoms and risk factors. Scrase said he hopes the expanding at-home options will take the pressure off hospitals that are at or nearing capacity.