On the same day the state reported some of its highest COVID-19 numbers since the coronavirus ripped through the state in the winter, leaders at some of New Mexico’s biggest hospitals had a simple plea during a Tuesday news conference: Those who haven’t received a vaccine need to do so.
Propelled by the delta variant, the virus is striking at a rate that hasn’t been seen in months. The state Department of Health reported 688 new cases Tuesday, with five additional deaths.
New Mexico hadn’t had a case count that high since Jan. 30, when it reported 741.
But the hospitalization count — 250, the most since Feb. 24 — was especially troubling, because it was 60 higher than Monday and creates a ripple effect for other patients who need care at the state’s medical centers.
Hospital officials on a Zoom call with reporters were blunt and united in their plea to up vaccination rates across the state.
Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales said the national health crises has shifted to a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and with “167 million people fully vaccinated across the county, we know exactly what the vaccine against COVID does. It dramatically decreases death and serious illness.”
Gonzales said Presbyterian recently has seen COVID-19 cases double each week statewide.
“I truly wish we weren’t meeting this way,” she told reporters, “because it’s an indication we are back at another surge.”
Tuesday’s report from the Department of Health included 202 new cases in Bernalillo County and also revealed a rise in cases in Eastern New Mexico. Lea County reported 131 cases, and Eddy County had 68.
There were 13 cases in Santa Fe County and 12 in Rio Arriba County.
As they did when cases were raging in November, December and January, officials warned an influx of COVID-19 patients could become a problem for others who need treatment.
University of New Mexico Hospital Chief Quality and Safety Officer Rohini McKee said the demographics of COVID-19 patients are changing, with younger, unvaccinated individuals becoming more common compared to the older patients that were seen earlier in the pandemic.
McKee said vaccinations could prevent people from taking up already scarce hospital beds.
Mckee said UNM Hospital has been full for the past two months as its catches up on deferred care.
“Every patient with COVID-19 that is in the hospital is taking up a spot of another patient with a cancer or stroke or some other illness that needs care,” she said.
Currently, about 65.5 percent of New Mexico residents age 18 and older are vaccinated, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. The state said 74.2 percent have received at least one inoculation.
More than 22,000 people have been vaccinated in the past seven days, according to the Department of Health.
“I have a very important message today to get out to the public,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer of Albuquerque’s Lovelace Medical Center. “Vaccines are safe. They are effective and we can prevent an increased number of deaths from COVID-19. There is still time. People can still get vaccinated.”