March 11, 2021

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (3/12/21 edition): NM came close to rationing care

U.S. Army

In case you didn’t see the past two days: The COVID-19 recap will be moving to a weekly format next week. 

Thursday was the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in New Mexico and the anniversary of the first public health emergency.

While the tone of a press conference with cabinet-level officials (see links below for coverage) was largely optimistica year into the pandemic, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase mentioned his “hardest day,” December 14. The state had been looking at ways to expand capacity since late November, as cases and hospitalizations continued to grow.

But the hospitalizations just kept growing. And the idea of instituting crisis standards of care and ration of care loomed as a real possibility.

“For a couple weeks, I wasn’t sleeping a night and very well at all,” he said. “And I remember that day, it really looked like this was the day when you’re gonna have to start doing it.”

The state narrowly avoided the last-ditch effort.

Leaders of some of the state’s major hospital systems also said the state was very close to a worst-case scenario.

Dr. Jason Mitchell, Presbyterian Health Services’ chief medical officer, said that late last year, hospitals were at 125 percent or 130 percent capacity, and had expanded “as far as we could get without getting into crisis standards of care.”

“And so we actually remember looking at the numbers, and saying, ‘if this doesn’t turn down within a week, it’s clear that we are going to exceed,’ so we were honestly within a week of hitting that as a system where we would have been truly overwhelmed,” Mitchell said.

Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval said it was an “hour by hour” thing with placement, determining where beds were available.

The hospital systems all spoke about the collaboration that was the key to keeping things running.

On to the recap:

  • The state Department of Health reported 236 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths related to the disease. DOH also reported that 130 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, which could include those who are from other states, but would not include New Mexicans hospitalized in other states.
  • The state COVID-19 dashboard said that as of Thursday, 457,497 New Mexicans, or 27.2 percent of those age 16 or older, received at least one shot. And a total of 262,367 New Mexicans aged 16 or older, or 15.6 percent, are fully vaccinated (either with two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one shot of Johnson & Johnson). The state has administered 731,266 total doses of vaccines so far.
    • New Mexicans aged 60 or older with chronic conditions will be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
    • So far, 200,000 who are eligible for the vaccine in New Mexico have not received their first shot, the Albuquerque Journal reported. And 180,000 people who have received at least an initial shot were not registered with the state. Some providers were not using the state’s registration list in the early days of vaccination.
  • President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Act into law on Thursday. And in a prime-time address, he said the country was on track to return to normal by the Fourth of July, the New York Times reported.
  • Biden said states should make all adults eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, The Washington Post reported
    • In the press conference with cabinet officials, Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins mentioned a similar date for New Mexico, after previously not giving specifics on dates previously:

“Based on what President Biden has said, and through leadership from our governor, we’re hoping to have as many people who want to be vaccinated as possible to have that done by the end of May,” she said. “So given that we’re now in March, and we’re prioritizing our educators, there’s a lot of hope that we’re going to make it to have a substantial number of New Mexicans vaccinated by the end of May.”