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NM doctors talk virus risks, urge flu shots

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, and cold and flu season approaching, New Mexico doctors are warning of a new wave of challenges in the coming months.

A mix of medical professions briefed the public Friday morning about a range of risk factors related to the virus and urged New Mexicans to get their flu shots this fall.

“We want to take all efforts that we can to make certain that our populations are protected, so that we don’t create another added burden for our health care delivery systems,” said David Pitcher, executive physician for UNM Health.

New Mexico reported 488 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the highest total since the pandemic began. On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that the state is “at extreme risk of uncontrollable spread.”

Jeff Salvon-Harman, chief patient safety officer at Presbyterian, said one issue is that New Mexicans are having more contact with people outside of their family unit than they were at the outset of the pandemic, and travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, he said indoor dining – which was allowed to resume at limited capacity in late August – brings customers into close proximity with strangers who could be carrying the virus.

“That’s probably the No. 1 risk in my mind,” Salvon-Harman said.

As patio season winds down in much of the state, Salvon-Harman encouraged restaurant owners to use space heaters to keep their outdoor seating viable, and look for ways to promote airflow in enclosed spaces.

“Being able to ventilate when it’s cold outside, not being able to keep customers comfortable, becomes a challenge for restaurant owners,” he said.

The state reached 133 virus-related hospitalizations Friday, a 49% increase from a week prior.

With hospitals already seeing an uptick in patients after people deferred treatment earlier in the pandemic, Pitcher said he’s concerned about the added strain on the hospital system from cold and flu patients.

Karen Carson, a Roswell-based pediatrician and member of the New Mexico Medical Society, said of the 189 children who died of the flu in 2019, 74% were unvaccinated.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet when we see COVID and flu together,” Carson said.

One key will be maintaining enhanced cleaning protocols as hospitals fill up. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer at Lovelace, said New Mexico hospitals have worked to screen patients and reduce visitors, which will play a big role in making sure other patients feel confident getting treated for other ailments.

“We really want to avoid a situation where people stop coming for emergencies,” Sandoval said.

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