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Metro health leaders wary but optimistic over pandemic

Illustration of coronavirus structure. (Courtesy of Cdc/Alissa Eckert, Ms; Dan Higgins, Mams)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Yes, a couple vaccines to fight COVID-19 are in the works and said to be 95 percent effective, but till they’re approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it’s best to stay masked and keep your distance from others.

“We do have to find ways to get past this surge … (and) find ways to support local businesses while doing things we enjoy,” said Presbyterian Medical Officer Denise Gonzales, in a Zoom media briefing Monday.

That surge in New Mexico — although 47 other states are also reporting such surges — saw 1,000 or more new COVID-19 positives tests in 12 days Nov. 3-15.

Multiple news outlets reported the U.S. surpassed 10 million infections the week of Nov. 8, making America the first nation to hit that number — and quickly advanced to 11 million by Nov. 15.

“Our health care workers are tired,” said UNM Hospital Chief Quality and Safety Officer Dr. Rohini McKee.

Among the trio of renowned Duke City hospitals — Lovelace, University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian — says Gonzales, there is “unprecedented cooperation,” and each facility has increased its capacity to handle pandemic patients “incrementally.”

Likewise, hospitals in other communities “have been creative in expanding capacity,” she said.

To hopefully relieve health care workers’ exhaustion, it was announced that 50 traveling nurses arrived in the state last week, with at least 100 more expected to arrive this coming week.

Gonzales remained optimistic: “We do think these new restrictions (announced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Nov. 13) will have a positive affect … and a positive impact on hospitalizations, and help the ICU intensive-care unit.”

The second wave, “with much more widespread infections” has arrived, she said, hence Lujan Grisham’s shutdown in the state.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” McKee added, “with new vaccines months away. … That is not going to be helpful to us now, but the tunnel right now is dark.’

According to the Washington Post, “a record-breaking surge in U.S. coronavirus cases is being driven to a significant degree by casual occasions that may feel deceptively safe, officials and scientists warn — dinner parties, game nights, sleepovers and carpools.”

Many of the initial coronavirus clusters were linked to nursing homes and crowded nightclubs, the Post noted. “But public health officials nationwide say case investigations are increasingly leading them to small, private social gatherings. This behind-doors transmission trend reflects pandemic fatigue and widening social bubbles … and is particularly insidious because it is so difficult to police and likely to increase as temperatures drop and holidays approach.”

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, that holiday was cause for concern for the local experts. (See 16 tips to make Thanksgiving safer.)

“Find a safer way to interact,” McKee suggested, advising “not to gather with anyone outside your pod.”

Latest directive will affect shopping locally

With the governor’s “reset,” non-essential businesses will be closed through Nov. 30 — and perhaps longer.

This means many businesses are being closed or reduced to curbside service during a time of year when most count on increased sales. Small local businesses do not have the resources to build big website platforms or spend big dollars on advertising campaigns.

This “reset” will impact small businesses the most, as Small Business Saturday (set for Nov. 28), holiday luncheons, parties and celebrations will be limited this year due to the pandemic.

Suggestions for a happy – and safer – Thanksgiving

Staff report

As learned from July 4, Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, and Halloween, holidays are incredibly risky during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the tendency of people to gather with friends and family from different households, cities and states to share food, drink and physical contact, the virus tends to surge in the weeks after a major holiday, resulting in an increase of hospitalizations and even deaths.

With Thanksgiving four days away — at a time when many states are breaking grim records — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued new guidance on how to safely celebrate the annual holiday. Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are fun, but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu, they point out.

Here are 16 tips from the CDC to celebrate Thanksgiving safely.

  • Celebrate with those in your household: The safest way to eat turkey is by limiting your celebration to those who live in your home.
  • Wear a mask: If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

The best way to do so is by wearing a mask with two or more layers over your nose and mouth, secured under your chin. Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face,

Remove your mask only when eating or drinking.

  • Socially distance from other: If you are eating with others who don’t live in your home, you need to stay at least 6 feet from them. Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread COVID-19 or flu — especially important for those considered high risk.
  • Practice hand hygiene: Whether you are cooking or eating, make sure to practice hand hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and make sure to keep hand sanitizer — at least 60 percent alcohol — with you at all times.
  • Bring your own feast: If you attend a gathering outside of your home, the CDC suggests arriving with your own feast: Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.
  • Don’t offer help to the chef. Due to the infectious nature of the virus, the CDC urges against it. Avoid going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.
  • Opt for single-use options: This isn’t a year to pass around salt and pepper shakers, salad dressings or even tongs. Choose single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates and utensils.
  • Celebrate al fresco. Eating outdoors is safer than indoors. Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Limit the number of guests. The larger the guest list, the more potential there is for a super-spreader event.
  • Express expectations. Talk to your guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Clean and disinfect. Make sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between uses.
  • Open windows. If you do opt to celebrate the holiday indoors, make sure there is proper ventilation by opening windows.
  • Avoid travel. Although it might be a drag to not visit loved ones over the holidays, you will help save lives. Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19; staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.
  • If you have to travel, do it safely. If you do opt to travel, the CDC recommends taking precautions. They include checking travel restrictions before you go; getting your flu shot; wearing a mask in public settings and while on public transportation; social distancing; practicing hand hygiene; avoiding touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth; and bringing extra supplies.
  • Get creative. Even when you can’t physically celebrate together, there are other ways to spend the holidays with your loved ones. Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you. You can also plan fun family activities, like watching Thanksgiving Day parades, sports and movies at home.
  • Avoid “Black Friday” shopping in stores. While hitting the stores on Black Friday may be an annual family tradition, the CDC suggests sticking to online shopping. Shop online sales, and use contactless services for purchased items, like curbside pick-up.

 

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