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NM has limited supplies of protective gear, survey says

Medical personnel prepare to test people for COVID-19 at the Lovelace hospital drive-up center on March 14. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

SANTA FE – As nationwide demand for health protection equipment surges, New Mexico’s health care system has a limited statewide stock of about 44,000 snug-fitting N95 face masks that protect medical workers from the coronavirus by filtering out small airborne particles, state officials said.

New Mexico also has about 2.4 million exam gloves, 70,500 medical gowns and 234,000 surgical masks that offer less protection from virus infection than N95 masks, state officials said in response to an inquiry from The Associated Press about the state’s stockpile of health protection equipment supplies.

The information provided to the AP by the state Health Department was drawn from a survey conducted by officials who received reports from 28 of New Mexico’s 33 counties, said department spokesman David Morgan.

The first N95 medical masks to reach the U.S. since February arrived by plane and ship this week, with trucks on hand to take them to coronavirus hot spots around the country.

New Mexico health officials said the state has received 75% of its allotment of protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile as the state and independent health care providers work to find additional sources for supplies.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she has urged federal authorities to make New Mexico a higher priority in the distribution of medical supplies. The state expects to receive a mobile U.S. Army hospital soon to expand local capacity to treat severely ill coronavirus patients, said Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

New Mexico Human Service Secretary David Scrase has warned that infections may spread to between 250,000 people and 1.25 million in New Mexico. The state has a population of about 2.1 million.