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3 more deaths as NM virus outbreak accelerates

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham holds a live stream news conference on Tuesday March 31.(From Video)

SANTA FE — New Mexico is projecting that its hospitals will have just 27% of the intensive care beds needed at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak — underscoring the need to slow the spread of the disease, state officials said Friday.

The new projections came as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that three more New Mexicans had died amid the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 10 so far. Most of those who have died are older adults with underlying health conditions.

The state also released more-detailed projections on what’s at stake as doctors and nurses battle the virus.

The disease is projected to kill somewhere between 2,100 and, 4,700 New Mexicans over the next 12 months, depending on how well people heed state instructions to stay home and engage in social distancing.

“The only real way to attack this virus is to stay away from it,” Lujan Grisham said Friday during a public briefing. Staying home “will quite literally save the lives of first responders and health care workers who are completely dedicated to doing everything they can to protect you.”

Modeling

The projected death toll released by the state Friday is much worse than a forecast released last week by University of Washington researchers. The university had projected about 510 deaths in New Mexico through this summer.

But David Scrase, secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department, said the state is actually at an even higher risk for COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — than outside projections show.

An older population and high rates of chronic liver disease, diabetes and other illnesses, he said, make New Mexico particularly vulnerable to coronavirus deaths. In some counties, for example, about half the population is older than 60.

A wide range of outcomes is possible, of course, but under the moderate scenario in the state’s projections, 3,066 people would die over the next 12 months.

And the state will need far more intensive care beds than are expected to be available.

Hospitals can push their maximum capacity to 589 ICU beds in the state, officials said. But that’s just 27% of the 2,175 intensive care beds that would be needed at the peak of the outbreak, according to state projections released Friday.

The state also projects a shortage of 1,281 general hospital beds and a shortage of 1,004 ventilators unless there’s action to bring in more resources.

The peak stress on hospitals statewide is projected somewhere between mid- to late-April and early May. But there may be surges in different regions of the state, Scrase said, with the first coming within days in northwestern New Mexico

Action

Lujan Grisham said anything she can do to limit the number of people who end up in the hospital is on the table. She urged people to avoid congregating at big box stores, churches or elsewhere.

People should also prepare for limits on how many customers can enter a store at the same time.

State officials are also recommending people wear masks when going to the grocery store or during similar outings. It isn’t required.

State health officials said the recommendation was driven, in part, by awareness that the disease can spread even without a cough or sneeze. Individuals with no symptoms at all can spread the virus, they said, triggering the recommendation that everyone wear masks.

Lujan Grisham also said state prisons are preparing to release about 40 inmates approved for parole earlier than they’d been scheduled — part of an effort to reduce the threat of a quickly spreading virus in a confined area.

New cases, deaths

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed in the state climbed to 495, the governor said, with 92 new cases announced Friday — a 23% increase in a day’s time.

The three deaths Lujan Grisham announced are the most revealed in a single day so far.

“We know this is an incredibly tough time,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are doing everything in our power to prevent as many deaths as possible.”

The three deaths announced Friday were all men in their 70s or older in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties. Each had underlying an medical condition.

Lujan Grisham also said that 41 people are now hospitalized in New Mexico as a result of COVID-19. Eighteen are on ventilators to help them breathe.

The governor’s briefing was conducted remotely and streamed live on her Facebook page and at abqjournal.com.

Rapid spread

The coronavirus has spread rapidly since New Mexico confirmed its first case on March 11.

However, the governor and other state officials have said social distancing strategies — including a ban on large public gatherings and the closure of businesses deemed nonessential — appear to be helping slow the spread.

Scrase said Friday that the number of virus cases in New Mexico was doubling every two days early in the outbreak, a rate similar to New York, where hospitals ended up overwhelmed.

But more recently, New Mexico’s doubling rate had fallen to every four days, a good sign, he said.

Most people who test positive for coronarivus have only mild to moderate symptoms — including fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath — and do not require hospitalization.

But some individuals encounter more severe symptoms and Lujan Grisham has said the state’s death tally will increase in the coming days and weeks.


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