As the coronavirus continues to rip through the state at an unprecedented pace, Albuquerque-area hospitals say they are at or near capacity.
On Monday, the state announced 1,418 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the highest number of new cases in one day since the start of the pandemic. It pushes the seven-day average to 1,170 new cases per day, which is also a record for New Mexico.
The state also reported 12 additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the statewide toll to 1,130.
Bernalillo County had the most new cases, with 464. Doña Ana County had 201 new cases. There were just over 90 cases in Sandoval and Santa Fe counties, 75 cases in Lea County and more than 50 cases in Chaves, Curry, Eddy and San Juan counties.
Those who died ranged in age from a Bernalillo County man in his 40s to a Doña Ana County woman in her 90s. Most of those who died were hospitalized and had underlying conditions, a risk factor for the disease.
Considering the blistering pace at which the virus is spreading, top doctors at Albuquerque-area hospitals said the worst is yet to come. There is usually a lag of a couple weeks from the time a positive test result returns to the time when a sick COVID-19 patient is in dire need of care.
“We are all at or above capacity today,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “And we know two to three weeks from now, it’ll be a whole lot worse.”
Mitchell was one of the top physicians from New Mexico’s largest health care systems who held a virtual briefing with reporters Monday. He said the state has already passed a “tipping point” that some health officials had feared.
He had previously said that if New Mexico climbed above 900 new virus cases per day on average, the virus could overwhelm the state’s medical resources. New Mexico has now blown past that marker.
On Nov. 1, the state was averaging 768 cases per day. A little more than a week later, the number has increased more than 50%, according to a Journal analysis.
Over the past seven days, the state has averaged 13.4 deaths per day, a new record. A month ago, on Oct. 10, the state was averaging 2.5 COVID-related deaths per day.
“It’s really easy to go home and be in your house and feel like everything is OK because everything is OK right there,” Mitchell said. “But I’ll tell you, it is not OK in the state right now.”
During the meeting, the physicians sounded the alarm against large family gatherings during the coming holidays.
They asked that people avoid such gatherings and continue other safe practices, such as wearing masks and staying home when possible, to try to curb the spread of the disease.
Dr. David Pitcher, executive physician for the University of New Mexico Health System, said Albuquerque hospitals are already taking measures to free up more hospital space. Those tactics include creating space for inpatient beds in parts of the hospital where they wouldn’t normally be, bringing in staff from outside the state and rescheduling certain medical procedures.
Mitchell said that Presbyterian has started using its non-clinical employees at its hospitals to do things such as deliver supplies and clean ambulances.
State officials said 423 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Mexico on Monday.
There are signs of the squeezing of supplies throughout New Mexico hospitals.
Arielei Kinzer, a photographer from Rio Rancho, now sleeps most nights on an inflatable mattress beside her daughter’s crib at the UNM Hospital in Albuquerque. Her mom relieves her some nights.
Kinzer and her 4-month-old daughter, Annora, are staying in the general pediatric unit while the youngster is treated for meningitis, a stay expected to last several weeks.
Kinzer, 31, said she slept in a hospital bed in her daughter’s room the first five nights. Then hospital workers arrived one morning to take the bed, which she was told was needed for adult patients.
Kinzer figured she’d spend the night on the room’s fold-out couch. But hospital workers took the couch soon, too.
“I just figured, well, there’s got to be a big bed shortage if they’re taking the couch,” Kinzer said in an interview Monday.
Now she’s sleeping on an inflatable mattress delivered by friends. Kinzer said she’s not angry and that she is thankful her daughter is getting good care.
“There are people who needed the bed more than I did,” Kinzer said.
Mark Rudi, a spokesman for the UNM Health Sciences Center, said the hospital is doing everything it can to keep families connected with patients amid the pandemic.
“We appreciate those families understanding that every hospital bed is needed right now,” he said in a written statement. “We encourage the public to keep doing their part in reducing hospitalizations by social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.”