October 30, 2020

New Mexico COVID-19 patients could be treated in tents in parking lots if spike continues

Human Services Director David Scrase goes over the latest data for New Mexico on Thursday at the Capitol during a news conference covering the state’s COVID-19 response.

If residents across the state do not change their behavior, hospitals will be so overwhelmed by mid-November from COVID-19 patients, hospitals will have to set up “MASH” like tents in parking lots and share ventilators between patients.

The state’s Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase and two guests, Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer for Christus St. Vincent Health System in Santa Fe, said that during an online press conference Thursday.

Thursday afternoon, after the press conference, the state reported a record number of new cases and another record number of hospitalizations for COVID-19.

Mitchell said the state is at “a pivotal point.”

Related: Heads of NM hospitals: Now is the time for New Mexicans to buckle down

If the cases of COVID-19 continue to increase at the current rate, the number of needed hospital beds will rise above the state’s 439 ICU beds, Mitchell said. That will push hospitals into crisis care and would require drastic measures, including treating patients in tents set up in parking lots and asking former hospital staff to return and relearn how to use equipment. It will also mean that both birthing patients as well as critical care car accidents “may not have a place to go.”

“This is a serious call to action for us as a community,” Mitchell said.

Scrase emphasized that if everything stays on the same trajectory, by mid-November the state will reach the crisis standard of care and the numbers of cases will continue to rise.

Scrase said parents should not let children trick or treat this weekend for Halloween. He also advised everyone to wear masks, avoid mass gatherings, wash hands, socially distance and to stay at home. The rolling 7-day average is now almost four times higher than it was during the July spike, Scrase said.

“Stay in your COVID-19 bubble and keep it as small as possible,” he said.

Scrase said shopping, in general, is on the rise and the state has found that some residents, when they have some symptoms, they get tested, but go into work, where they then infect more people.

“Stay home when you get tested,” Scrase said.

Mitchell said the current spike is caused by people feeling “like normal again.”

“We can bring the case count back down,” Mitchell said.

The 35-to-64-year old age group is driving hospital admissions, Scrase said. That same group has a 1.7 percent mortality rate from COVID-19.

“That age group is vulnerable, too,” he said.

He said 1 percent of all COVID-19 deaths occurred in the 20-29 age group.

Gonzales said Christus St. Vincent is three times as full as it was in April and May, when the state reached its first peak of the virus.

Scrase said the hospital crisis burns out medical professionals, and help would not be available as it was for areas with early peaks. Also, when the New York City hospitals went into crisis care, medical professionals from New Mexico and elsewhere were able to fly in to help. But now, spikes are happening in virtually every state and there are no available medical staff from other states to help.

“We’re going to have to take a lot more precautions,” Scrase said.

Scrase said COVID-19 may end up being between the third- to the fifth-leading cause of death in the state by the end of the year. Overall deaths in the state are 7 percent higher this year. Of that, 5 percent are due to COVID-19.

The additional 2 percent are due to heart and lung disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, he said.

Mitchell said 1 in 1,500 Americans have died from COVID-19.