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State braces for surge in COVID-19 cases

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico announced two more deaths and 44 additional confirmed cases of the new coronavirus on Monday, while President Donald Trump pledged to get the state a U.S. Army field hospital that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham requested.

The developments, three weeks after the state’s first positive COVID-19 tests, brought the number of confirmed cases in New Mexico to 281 as state leaders braced for a possible surge of additional cases in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the two additional deaths – both elderly Bernalillo County women with underlying health issues – doubled the state’s number of coronavirus fatalities.

Top state health officials urged New Mexicans to stay home except for essential outings, saying there is likely an unknown number of infected state residents that have not yet been tested for the coronavirus or determined to have positive test results.

While only 24 coronavirus patients were still hospitalized in New Mexico as of Monday, state hospital officials have said the state’s health care system will be overwhelmed if a surge in cases can’t be mitigated.

Given that backdrop, Lujan Grisham last week asked the federal Department of Defense to set up a 248-bed U.S. Army field hospital in Albuquerque.

During a telephone conversation between Trump and governors on Monday, the president told Lujan Grisham that he would grant her request for the hospital.

“We’ll build you that hospital as quick as we can,” Trump told the governor, according to a transcript of the conversation obtained by CBS News. He also apparently directed aides to look into the issue.

That came after Lujan Grisham brought up the request and said her office had not yet received word on the hospital from U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Lujan Grisham, who has cited concern about New Mexico hospitals’ ability to absorb a surge of novel coronavirus cases, had asked that the U.S. Army combat support hospital be in place by April 10, or as soon after that date as possible.

However, no details about a possible location in Albuquerque have been released.

New Mexico has fewer hospital beds per capita than the national average, with 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. The national average is about 2.4 beds per 1,000 people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Along with other governors, Lujan Grisham has been in regular contact with the White House as the coronavirus outbreak has intensified.

Though Lujan Grisham has, at various times, criticized the federal government for its handling of how information and health care supplies are disseminated to states, the governor appeared to praise Trump during Monday’s phone conversation, according to the CBS News transcript of an audio recording.

After exchanging concerns about rising COVID-19 infection rates on the Navajo Nation, Lujan Grisham told Trump: “Yeah, I’m very worried and Mr. President, I appreciate you.”

“Thank you very much. I appreciate you,” Trump said in response, according to the transcript.

New Mexico’s epicenter

In all, there are now confirmed coronavirus cases in 18 of New Mexico’s 33 counties.

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county, is home to 117 of the state’s 281 confirmed cases. Three of the four deaths attributed to COVID-19 have also been in Bernalillo County.

The state’s first coronavirus death happened last week in Artesia, where a man in his 70s died before a positive test result came back from a state lab.

The respiratory disease has also reached other rural parts of the state in recent days.

In Torrance County, which had its first three announced cases of coronavirus on Monday, local leaders said they had been planning for the situation.

“With our close proximity to Albuquerque, it was only a matter of time before some of our residents were exposed to the virus,” Torrance County Commission Chairman Ryan Schwebach said.

Meanwhile, 26 New Mexicans who tested positive for the disease have recovered, according to the state Department of Health.

Symptoms of coronavirus can include a fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. Most cases do not require hospitalization, but severe cases can require medical intervention – including the use of ventilators and other breathing devices.

Near lockdown

Lujan Grisham’s administration has taken numerous steps to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, including a “stay at home order” that banned public gatherings of more than five people and the shuttering of businesses deemed to be nonessential.

In addition, a statewide public school closure has been extended through the end of the academic year, though school districts have been tasked with launching distance learning programs.

The actions have had an immediate impact on businesses and employees statewide, with more than 31,000 unemployment claims filed last week – an increase of more than 400% from two weeks earlier.

BY THE NUMBERS

Tested in NM

12,527

Number of negative tests

12,246

Number of positive tests

281

Number of deaths 4

 hotline COVID-19

1-855-600-3453

Non-health related COVID-19 hotline

1-833-551-0518

SOURCE: NMDOH


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