The unrelenting surge in coronavirus caseloads continues to strain New Mexico’s largest hospitals as the state slides deeper into the most infectious time of the year.

The more contagious delta variant accounts for almost all COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Mexico — and across the U.S. — making it the most pressing concern, hospital officials said in an online news conference Tuesday.

They said it’s the focus over the omicron variant that recently emerged in South Africa and has yet to be reported in the U.S.

“Although we always think about the next variant and how we’re going to address it and how we’re going to work with it, we have to stop and say, ‘Today, what’s going on?’ ” said Jason Mitchell, Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ chief medical officer. “And today, delta is burning through America, and we can stop it with a vaccine.”

South Africa’s strong surveillance quickly spotted omicron as it emerged, but much is unknown, such as whether the nation is allowing “superspreader events” and whether its low vaccination rate — about 29 percent — led to an accelerated spread, said Rohini McKee, University of New Mexico Hospital’s chief quality and safety officer.

“I think we will have a lot more answers in about two weeks,” McKee said. “One of the most important things we’re waiting on is how effective existing vaccines are against the omicron variant.”

Medical experts say it’s too soon to know whether omicron’s mutations make it more able to evade the body’s immune system, even after vaccination, and whether it will cause more severe illness.

As with other variants, the best safeguards are getting vaccinated, including with booster shots, and being vigilant with wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding indoor gatherings, McKee said.

“We need to stay calm and understand that we have the tools that we need to deal with omicron or delta or any other variant, and we know what they are,” McKee said. “They may not be glamorous, but they work.”

State and federal health officials say the vaccine’s effectiveness wanes after six months, and anyone who has gone that long after receiving Pfizer or Moderna shots should seek a booster. Those who received a Johnson & Johnson shot should be boosted after two months, they say.

So far, only about 23 percent of adults in the state have gotten a booster, Mitchell said. Just over 74 percent of adults have completed the initial vaccine series.

High daily case counts show little sign of abating.

The state Department of Health reported 1,132 new cases and 12 additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday. There were 633 patients hospitalized for treatment of the illness in the state, a more than 10 percent increase from a day earlier.

Daily hospitalizations have remained lower than the 700 some doctors predicted but are still well above overall bed capacity.

McKee and Mitchell said their hospitals are packed, which is made more challenging by the difficulties in keeping them fully staffed.

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center is grappling with the same problems as it runs at 110 percent of normal capacity.

“Like all other healthcare organizations, staffing continues to be a challenge as we see increased volume,” Christus spokesman Arturo Delgado wrote in an email. “We continue to monitor this and we are taking steps to ensure we have sufficient staff to care for our patients.”

Those steps includes rescheduling some elective procedures so the hospital has sufficient beds and care providers for more acutely ill patients, Delgado added.

UNM and Presbyterian are running on crisis standards of care, a status given to hospitals with heavy overflow, enabling them to more easily transfer patients to other facilities.

Mitchell said 28 percent of Presbyterian’s patients have COVID-19, a jump from 20 percent two weeks ago. A sizable portion of patients have other illnesses that were made worse from delaying care during the coronavirus pandemic, he added.

He said current COVID-19 hospitalizations stem from infections that occurred two or three weeks ago, so the number is likely to climb through December.

“The way things are going, we expect higher levels of hospitalizations,” Mitchell said.

(7) comments

Lynn k Allen

I was watching Amanpour & Co. The Nov 30 broadcast with a

discussion between Walter Isaacson, interviewer, and Covid

disease Dr. Celene Gounder. At one point Dr. Grinder was

asked her opinion about the US Covid map showing NM in the

red & being one of the highest levels of covid. Since NM has a

very high percentage of vaccinations and mask wearing

adherence and covid precautions, why did she think NM was

very red? Dr. Goinder's opinion was that travel from the

neighboring states lower vaccination & mask rates AND NM


and some Colorado raises our covid hospitalization

numbers resulting in NM being vibrantly RED on the map.

It was not necessarily representing NM resident rates. 😒

If this us true, I am livid that our New Mexican Healthcare

workers & Hospitals are suffering from Texas disregard for

vaccines, mask mandates and federal health guidelines.

We are losing nurses, Dr.s, and Healthcare Workers, as

well as limited emergency room access for New Mexico


Is this true??? If so, I am livid at our Governor allowing

Texas & ARIZONA to injure us for their follies.

Erich Kuerschner

Hmmm... I got my booster yesterday, and was pleased that the waiting room had a large air filter present. Not so comfortable with [University of] New Mexico Hospital’s chief quality and safety officer. suggesting hand washing as a safeguard rather than improving air quality. Bit then then air quality may be something that was never discussed in her training. IMHO, it would have been MUCH more helpful, had she advised the public that one need not buy a commercial air infiltration system like El Centro was using. For slightly over $100, one can get all the components of a DIY 11SF, 2" thick Merv 13 filter, including the tape.

Emily Koyama

The Gov's finger is hovering over that "lockdown" button....

Robert Fields

Well, if our hospitals are filling up with covid protections as they are now, do we really want our hospitals to reach the point that they can’t take new patients? That impacts everyone’s health that needs emergency care. When hospitals fill, so do ambulances as they end up being holding spaces for patients who have to wait to be admitted. Covid patients are apparently filling up and could ultimately paralyze our health care system.

The article mentions that people getting so sick they need hospitalization would have contracted covid about 2 weeks ago but Thanksgiving was just last week and undoubtedly will result in a spike in cases and hospitalizations in another 2 weeks give or take. Then comes Christmas. Then New Years. And our hospitals are almost full now.

What is your solution?

Emily Koyama

Well, despite relatively high vaccination rates and more stringent mask and lockdown requirements then many other States, New Mexico is not doing so great, and other States that have been less restrictive are definitely doing better when it comes to infection rates and deaths per capita.

Sure, I think more vaccinations will help but I will help but I don't think lockdown's will.

Robert Fields

While we have mask requirements, we don’t seem to have great compliance. I see it whenever I’m out. We also have pockets of vaccine resistance which tend to be where the highest infection rates are. You can see the map on New Mexico’s Covid Dashboard. It’s not really fair to point at the rule and say “our numbers should be lower” while ignoring the reasons our numbers are higher.

This isn’t rocket science. We know masks reduce transmission and we know most of the sick and hospitalized are unvaccinated. How does anyone connect those dots and conclude it’s because our rules are too strict?

Also, states like Florida, Texas, and others with republican governors have changed how their states report covid deaths to make the numbers appear lower. You’re comparing apples and oranges when you say New Mexico isn’t doing as well as those other states. The states aren’t reporting the same things so you can’t compare just by the numbers being reported.

Emily Koyama

Sorry not convinced... The fact remains that 45 States are doing better than New Mexico, and most of them have less stringent mandates and lower vaccination rates.

Cherry picking a few articles about reporting variances does not change that.

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