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‘Encouraging news’: Bed shortage no longer projected

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico has “flattened the curve” and is on track to avoid a shortage of hospital beds as it confronts the coronavirus outbreak, state officials said Wednesday.

But the trend is fragile, officials said, and some regions of the state – including McKinley and San Juan counties – are still having spikes in new virus cases.

“I want folks to be really clear,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday. “We’re not out of this fight yet.”

Nonetheless, she and Human Services Secretary David Scrase offered their most optimistic forecast yet. For the first time, the state is no longer projected to face shortages of hospital beds or ventilators at the peak of the virus outbreak.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivers her weekly Coronavirus update from the State Capitol on Wednesday April 22, 2020. (Luis Snchez Saturno/The New Mexican, pool)

It’s a sign, Scrase said, that New Mexicans’ willingness to stay home and engage in social isolation has helped bend the growth “curve.” But he warned that it’s only one week of data.

“What we’re seeing is we actually have flattened the curve for the whole state of New Mexico,” Scrase said.

He added: “You can see we’re going to have enough beds.”

6 more deaths

Lujan Grisham also shared some grim news. Six more people died in New Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak – pushing the total to 71 – and testing confirmed 139 new cases.

“I do want people to know that we mourn with you,” Lujan Grisham said.

She said 121 patients are now hospitalized in New Mexico, 33 of whom are on ventilators to help them breathe.

Altogether, there are 2,210 cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Most of the growth in new cases came in McKinley and San Juan counties, where the Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the virus.

Five of the six whose deaths were announced Wednesday were adults from San Juan County. The other was a man from McKinley County.

The victims ranged in age from their 30s to their 90s.

Four of the six had underlying medical conditions – a risk factor for the disease.

Projections

In Wednesday’s public briefing, state officials said New Mexico was no longer projected to have a shortage of hospital beds or ventilators, though the state might need more intensive care beds.

It was a far different forecast from what they’d offered in earlier briefings.

Two weeks ago, state officials said New Mexico faced shortages of ventilators, general hospital beds and ICU beds, based on statistical modeling of the pandemic. They said 2,984 New Mexicans could die in the next 12 months, depending on how well residents adhere to social distancing strategies.

On Wednesday, Scrase didn’t offer a specific projection for deaths.

But he was clearly more optimistic as he showed a graphic of projected demand for hospital beds and other equipment.

“We are seeing some fairly rapid improvement here that’s encouraging,” Scrase said.

The state’s doubling rate – the amount of time it takes for the number of virus cases to double – has climbed to 5.3 days, he said, up from 3.3 days a month ago.

Scrase also warned that even small changes in how the disease spreads could alter the projections substantially. Letting up on social distancing too early, he said, could trigger a spike in new infections – a trend that played out, he said, in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19 and in swine flu cases about a decade ago.

New Mexico, he added, continues to see hot spots of virus activity in some counties.

“There’s a lot that we don’t know,” Scrase said. “We’re seeing a much higher rate of spread in Native American communities, especially in the northwest corner of the state.”

Genetics might be a factor, Scrase said, but it’s too early to say.

Even amid the optimism, Lujan Grisham said she expects to extend the state’s public health orders through May 15. It’s too early, she said, to declare victory.

The governor said she was thankful for the hard work New Mexicans have done to stay home except for absolutely necessary trips. It has made a real difference, she said, for front-line health care workers.

“I can’t think of a more unfair, inappropriate situation than to ask any one of our doctors or nurses to make that decision about who should get a ventilator or not,” Lujan Grisham said.

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