Local hospitals could be approaching 'crisis mode' - Albuquerque Journal

Local hospitals could be approaching ‘crisis mode’

A medical staffer watches as a woman inserts a swab into her mouth at the COVID-19 drive-through testing site at Balloon Fiesta Park on Monday where a new saliva test is available. The test is offered for free, but preregistration is required. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Top physicians at three Albuquerque-area health systems say “crisis mode” may be coming for the metro area in the next few weeks as they treat an ever-growing number of COVID-19-positive patients.

And if that happens, it will mean longer wait times for patients; COVID-positive doctors and nurses treating patients; and tough decisions about whether a patient should stay on a ventilator or be pulled off because the next patient waiting for one has a better chance of survival.

“What ‘crisis standards of care’ mean is that you get to a point where you focus on the good of a population,” said Dr. Rohini McKee, a critical care physician at the University of New Mexico Hospital. “You use strategies that can do the most good for the most people, rather than focusing on an individual.”

UNM, Presbyterian and Lovelace health systems are currently operating in what they call “contingency mode,” which means the hospitals are stretched beyond their regular capacity but not yet in a crisis. But the doctors said that if the virus continues on its current course, local hospitals may not be able to keep up.

To that end, the doctors asked people to avoid large gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday this week.

“If the virus continues to spread as it is, we are not going to be able to take care of the numbers that we are expecting,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer for the Lovelace Health System.

The doctors held a teleconference with reporters on Monday to discuss hospital operations amid a surge in virus cases.

There were 846 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the state on Monday, according to state health officials, with 2,249 new COVID cases and 17 additional deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,400.

Those figures are below the state’s current seven-day averages for both daily cases and deaths. The state averaged 2,673 new cases per day over the past seven days and 23.43 deaths per day, according to a Journal analysis.

About a third of the positive cases and about half of the deaths announced Monday were from Bernalillo County, which reported 748 new cases. Eight of the 17 people whose deaths were reported Monday were from Bernalillo County.

Those who died ranged in age from a man in his 40s from Cibola County to a man in his 100s from Sandoval County who was a resident of The Suites at Rio Vista in Rio Rancho.

DOH unveils new test

State health officials on Monday rolled out a new type of test for COVID-19, which involves swabbing the inside of the patient’s mouth. It is considered less invasive than the more standard method of collecting a sample from the nose. The new method is being offered at the Department of Health testing site at Balloon Fiesta Park.

Patients will collect their own saliva sample, but a health care professional will be present to make sure the sample is properly collected, according to a DOH news release.

As with other COVID tests, the test will be free, but people must register ahead of time at www.curative.com.

The state’s test positivity rate last week was above 15%, well above the goal of less than 5%, which the state has set as a criteria for reopening. “We are excited to provide faster, more convenient methods of COVID-19 testing to the public,” said acting Department of Health Secretary Billy Jimenez in a news release. “The saliva test is less invasive to clients, reduces exposure to health care workers, alleviates some of the strain on our labs and will hopefully reduce the burden of (personal protective equipment) usage in our state.”

The new testing method comes as state officials are also trying to reduce the turnaround time between when a person gets a COVID test and when they get the results.

The health department also said Monday that, going forward, people will get an email and text message letting them know if their test has come back positive or negative. Health officials said the goal is to inform the patient of their results as quickly as possible.

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