New Mexico warns of a 'miserable' November and tighter measures as COVID-19 spreads
Officials warn New Mexico is within weeks of exceeding ICU beds, crisis standards of care at hospitals
SANTA FE - New Mexico announced a new record for daily COVID-19 deaths in the state Thursday, with the passing of 23 more residents from the disease with seven in Doña Ana County and six in Bernalillo County.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham led a public news briefing on the state's COVID-19 response as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus surges in every region of the state, repeatedly blowing through daily case records and increasing pressure on the state's hospital network.
The message from the governor and health officials Thursday was that the daily death toll is predicted to rise during the rest of November, and that the pressure on New Mexico's hospital system, including exhausted medical personnel, is already a crisis.
There had been 4,359 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Nov. 2.
While 82 percent of adult hospital beds in the state were occupied Thursday, state Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the actual figure should be approximately 10 percent higher when accounting for staffing shortages.
"We expect to run out of general hospital beds in a matter of days — it's not weeks," Scrase said.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 alone have increased by 260 percent over the past month, and with 79 deaths attributed to the disease in the past week, fatalities have surged by 230 percent in two weeks.
As of Thursday, the death toll stood at 1,082, and data modeling suggests New Mexico will see 13 or more deaths daily over the next two weeks.
The rate of spread suggests in the modeling that, for every known case of COVID-19, there are more than three additional cases undiagnosed. That means, according to data modeling, that on a day when New Mexico announces 791 confirmed cases, there might in fact be 3,322.
Over the next two weeks, Scrase said the state might see daily case reports of 791 to 1,760 new positives.
Others are reading:Three new COVID-19 testing sites coming to Doña Ana County
On Thursday, New Mexico announced 862 new cases: Bernalillo County accounted for 202 of those and Doña Ana County 137.
It brought the state's total to 51,110 since the first cases in the state were announced on March 11. The state has designated 22,459 of those cases as having recovered.
The state has conducted 1,230,205 tests, with the state currently averaging 10,000 daily, according to Scrase. In the past day alone he said the state had processed more than 11,000.
Scrase said that residents by now know what is needed for limiting community spread but "we seem somehow to be unable to do it."
The governor warned that the next two weeks were projected to be "miserable."
Much of the conference was devoted to highlighting the pressure on hospitals currently, and planning for an "Italy scenario," in which the spread accelerates rapidly causing a "deluge" of patients exceeding available beds, forcing medical staff to make impossible decisions about rationing care and caring for the sick or injured in parking lots, waiting rooms or other makeshift spaces.
The guidance for New Mexicans repeated Thursday was to avoid leaving home, even limiting essential errands or having items delivered where possible, but to avoid social gatherings at least. Additionally, New Mexicans were reminded to wear masks outside the home, keep distant from other people and to wash their hands frequently.
Lujan Grisham said new or amended public health orders might be announced early next week, and that they might include a tightening of current restrictions in an effort to bring community spread back under control.
She also said a "crackdown" was underway targeting businesses flouting public health orders restricting their capacity or operations, saying some businesses included as essential were being used as venues for illegal social gatherings.
The predicament comes despite measures to bolster medical staff, such as recruiting medical personnel from Canada and the New Mexico Reserve Corps, and contracted traveling nurses who arrive this month. Improvements in treatment of COVID-19 as more knowledge is acquired of the disease has also improved outcomes, Scrase said.
Officials said Thursday that plans were underway to add more field medical center capacity in Albuquerque. Applications are underway for more staffing resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and for emergency or compassionate use permissions from the Food and Drug Administration to administer an antibody "cocktail" manufactured by Regeneron — a treatment recently provided to President Donald Trump during his bout with the disease but not yet FDA approved — to New Mexico patients who meet certain criteria.
Denise Gonzalez, medical director for Presbyterian Health Services and a critical care physician, said that individual patients react differently to the treatment, as has been shown with convalescent plasma therapy as well.
Scrase reiterated that he expected the health emergency to extend beyond the arrival of a vaccine, as it will take time to distribute it to a point where immunity becomes prevalent — assuming the vaccine successfully provides immunity.
"Whatever drug we're talking about, wear a mask. Don't get the disease," said John Marinaro of the UNM Center for Adult Critical Care .
Rather than wait for a state order to limit movement outside the home, the governor called on New Mexicans to discipline themselves voluntarily.
"We're in a dramatic spiral and I feel compelled to say I am so sorry to the New Mexicans who are impacted right now and fighting for their lives right now," Lujan Grisham said, "and for the health care workers who are exhausted — I'm sorry. This country could have done it differently — we didn't."
- Crystal Diamond flips southern New Mexico Senate seat, will succeed John Arthur Smith
- New Mexico Dems plan to redraw 2nd Congressional district
- No presidential candidate in modern history has refused to concede, but there's no law that requires it