Citing the rising number of patients hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, hospital officials on Monday urged New Mexicans to heed government warnings and avoid family gatherings on Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season.
“I know how important family and community are to New Mexicans,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer of Albuquerque’s Lovelace Medical Center, during a weekly Zoom call with reporters.
However, Sandoval said, “We need to pull together in this time and really focus on really taking care of each other, and the best way for us to do that now is for us to not gather, to stay home.”
State health officials reported 2,259 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, 17 deaths and 846 hospitalizations.
According to the Department of Health, 310 adult intensive care unit beds were occupied Monday across New Mexico’s seven major hospitals.
Sandoval said the state would reach a crisis level if as many as 439 ICU beds were occupied, which he said is entirely possible.
“Our health care providers are doing everything they can,” he said, “but if the virus continues to spread as it is, we are not going to be able to take care of the numbers that we are expecting. We really need everyone’s help.”
Jeff Salvon-Harman, chief patient safety officer and medical director of infection control at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which operates a hospital in Santa Fe, presented a similarly grim picture. Large family gatherings could lead to some of those attendees failing to make it to next year’s gathering, he said.
Lillian Montoya, president and CEO of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said in email the thought of large holiday gatherings increasing the spread of the deadly virus “creates anxiety in our workplace. I strongly encourage people to keep their gatherings incredibly small and limited to their most immediate family.”
Christus St. Vincent is caring for 32 COVID-19 patients, she said.
Multiple health care companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, have announced early successes with vaccine trials, and some federal officials have said they believe a vaccine can be available for distribution as early as December or January. But until a vaccine is widely available, health officials said, residents must remain cautious.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a nationwide travel advisory, pleading with Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving.
Still, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has reported more than a million people a day crossing through airport screeners in the past few days.
University of New Mexico Hospital’s chief quality and safety officer, Rohini McKee, said it will take about three to four weeks to see the effect of Thanksgiving gatherings on the state’s COVID-19 numbers. Experts fear a continued rise from the holiday will further strain health care providers statewide — and could hinder care for patients with other conditions.
“This will create capacity in the medical system to care for all those patients who don’t have COVID but still need a medical bed,” McKee said.
The state Department of Health announced Friday it would open Gibson Medical Center in Albuquerque as an alternate care facility for recovering COVID-19 adult patients who do not require acute care. The site is providing 25 beds for patients who need nursing help and 25 beds for patients who must remain isolated. It has a maximum capacity of 180 patients if two additional floors are opened, according to the Department of Health.
Salvan-Harman offered a glimmer of hope, noting that since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham instituted a two-week shutdown Nov. 16, Presbyterian has noted a drop in its five-day positive test rate average.
“It’s starting to trend downward,” he said, “which I attribute at this point to those public health order improvements.”