The coronavirus has persisted in its death march and even picked up speed in September.
Mortality figures for Sept. 18-24 reached 74 in New Mexico, attaining levels that generally haven’t been seen since early this year. By comparison, the week of June 7-13 produced just six coronavirus deaths, the state reported.
The September deaths follow high numbers of cases and hospitalizations in the late summer. A one-week stretch of cases in the middle of August in this state hit 5,482 , reaching heights not recorded since January.
Dr. Vesta Sandoval , chief medical officer with Lovelace Health System, said there is naturally a lag between cases and hospitalizations and deaths.
“It’s the same curve that we’ve seen in the past,” Sandoval said.
Numbers of cases have dropped somewhat in September from August, which could bode well, officials said.
“I think with the numbers beginning to stabilize, that is a good sign,” said Jasmin Milz-Holmstrup, a spokeswoman for La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe.
Fall promises to be a complex season for health care, with the period for flu coming up, booster shots being administered for the ongoing pandemic and emergency room visits higher than normal.
Some of those elements are intertwined. Sandoval said the hospitals in her system had only three patients hospitalized for flu in the 2020 season compared to 920 the previous year.
Sandoval attributed the low number in 2020-21 to many people wearing masks, practicing social distancing, accelerating hand-washing and obtaining flu vaccinations.
“And I can tell you — we need that again,” Sandoval said.
The state and federal governments also have announced guidelines for certain groups to receive the Pfizer booster shot. The booster is only for those who have already received the two-dose regimen of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccinations. The booster is being limited to high-risk groups such as older adults.
Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani a public health professor at New Mexico State University, said the state is “certainly not” over the hump with COVID-19.
Khubchandani predicted “it is going to be a tough fall and winter.” Viruses will spread more easily with people staying indoors in cold weather, as well as through gathering and traveling for the holidays, he said.
“It will get a little chaotic, as many people will not know if they have the flu or COVID or both,” he wrote in an email.
In the early summer, the pandemic showed signs of cooling off, until the highly contagious delta variant of the disease began spreading. Physicians say if a vaccinated person contracts the delta variant, he or she is far less likely to get sick, be hospitalized or die.
“We do have a good therapy for COVID-19,” said Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe. “It’s called a vaccination.”
Gonzales said unvaccinated people suffer about 98 percent of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths.
He said some emergency rooms are busier than before with patients who have delayed care for serious conditions during the pandemic. The Christus St. Vincent emergency department also has treated many coronavirus patients seeking Regeneron, the monoclonal antibody therapy that has worked well in some cases.
Melanie Mozes, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the emergency departments of her system’s hospitals throughout the state have seen increased wait times because of the surge.
La Familia’s Milz-Holmstrup said the course of the coronavirus over the near future is impossible to predict.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the next couple of months play out,” she said. “In regard to what comes next — we don’t really know.”