Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Researchers at the University of Washington project that hundreds of New Mexicans could die in the coronavirus outbreak through late June or early July – with a peak of 16 people dying each day for a stretch in late April.
Even with social-distancing efforts through the end of May, their model forecasts that COVID-19 will kill somewhere between 245 and 803 people in New Mexico through the summer.
The outbreak would hit its peak the week of April 23, when 10 to 19 people would die each day. Deaths would taper off and end in mid- to late-June or early July.
The analysis was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The researchers acknowledge there’s uncertainty in the forecast, given the number of potential variables in how the spread of the disease will actually play out.
Just two deaths in New Mexico have been attributed to COVID-19 so far – the second of which was announced Saturday. Each of the men who died were older adults with chronic underlying health conditions.
The University of Washington projection triggered a plea by top physicians at Artesia General Hospital – which recorded New Mexico’s first coronavirus death – for residents to stay home to avoid spreading the disease.
“We need to double down in our efforts to contain the coronavirus,” doctors Marshall Baca, Marshall Baca Jr. and Joe Salgado of Artesia General Hospital said in a letter released Saturday. “We are nowhere near the anticipated spike in virus activity in our state.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is also urging New Mexicans to do more to limit their contact with other people. The explosion in confirmed cases in recent days – now up to 208, with 17 additional positive tests announced Saturday – is a sign that more social distancing is necessary, she said.
Her administration has banned public gatherings of five or more people and ordered the closure of schools and non-essential businesses. She declared a public health emergency March 11, when the first virus cases emerged.
New Mexico health officials haven’t released any of their own modeling yet. But Lujan Grisham has warned the public that the state may not hit its peak in new cases until sometime next month.
Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel has appointed a team that is examining at least five statistical models to determine best- and worst-case scenarios for New Mexico, said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham. Some of the information they’re reviewing is reflected in the University of Washington model, but not all of it, Sackett said.
The group is working hard on its modeling this weekend and will have more information soon, she said.
The state’s medical advisory team, Sackett said, “believes that the aggressive actions described in the WA study and in our power to ‘bend the curve’ have been taken here in New Mexico: educational facilities were closed early, on March 12, and the stay at home order was published on March 18, putting NM as one of the leading states by doing all three of these within 8 days of the first case. These all improve the outlook for NM as calculated in the WA model.”
The pandemic has killed two New Mexicans so far over the last seven days.
The most recent is a Bernalillo County man in his 80s with chronic underlying health conditions. He died Friday.
The other was an Eddy County man in his 70s, also with chronic health conditions. He died Monday in Artesia.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms, and they recover within two to three weeks.
Older adults and people with chronic health problems are most at risk. Symptoms include a fever and respiratory trouble.
Nineteen people in New Mexico are hospitalized for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to the state. Some have required intensive care or a ventilator to help them breathe.
Twenty-six people in New Mexico are classified as having recovered from the disease.
The University of Washington health institute projects that New Mexico will face a shortage of intensive care beds as the virus sweeps through the state. At the peak in late April, the state would need 238 ICU beds, or twice as many as the 117 available, according to the projection.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said on its website that the projections are based on data provided by local governments, hospital networks, the World Health Organization and other sources.
The model was developed initially to help the university’s school of medicine prepare for the outbreak. Other states reached out for help, so the institute said it released a national forecast to help policymakers plan for the demands on the health care system.
The researchers are projecting more than 81,000 deaths in the United States overall and a shortage of 14,600 intensive care beds at the national peak, in mid-April.
New York City has emerged as a hotspot for the virus. Some nurses and doctors there say they have worked nonstop for weeks and that they fear getting the virus themselves because of a shortage of gear.
“In addition to a large number of deaths from COVID-19, the epidemic in the U.S. will place a load well beyond the current capacity of hospitals to manage, especially for ICU care,” Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the institute, wrote of the research, published Thursday.
The research paper was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the state of Washington.
The model projects 513 deaths in New Mexico through June 26, after which no one else is projected to die through early August. The model also shows a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast, with the projected range in actual deaths expected somewhere between 245 and 803.
The model looks only at what it’s calling the first wave of the pandemic, which would end in June.
“The question of whether there will be a second wave of the epidemic will depend on what we do to avoid reintroducing COVID-19 into the population,” the institute said on its website.
Mass screening of the population for the disease, tracing the contacts of anyone who has it and quarantines will be essential to avoiding the second wave, the institute said.
– Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation: Projections