Crowded hospitals expect many more COVID patients - Albuquerque Journal

Crowded hospitals expect many more COVID patients

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Although the number of new daily virus cases in New Mexico has been dropping in recent days, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to soar.

And hospital officials don’t expect that trend to reverse anytime soon.

“Our hospitals … are very close to running out of both ICU beds and regular beds,” Dr. Rohini McKee, a critical care physician at the University of New Mexico Hospital, said during a teleconference Monday. “Given the numbers that we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the health care system … is going to be overwhelmed.”

There were 876 people hospitalized with COVID on Monday in New Mexico, including 146 on ventilators. Although that number was down from 919 in hospitals on Sunday, the patient population Monday still rose 18.7% over Nov. 16.

A trip to the hospital with COVID usually doesn’t happen for weeks after someone has been infected, doctors said. So it’s likely that those who contracted COVID during New Mexico’s latest peak aren’t yet sick enough to need a hospital bed.

The state’s highest seven-day average of new cases per day peaked at 2,672, on Nov. 23. The 1,684 new virus cases reported Monday brought the seven-day average to 1,851 cases per day.

Predicting a rise

“We do still predict an increase in the number of hospitalizations … even if the caseload has theoretically leveled off,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian. “People who contracted (COVID) two and three weeks ago are in the hospital now.”

Doctors from the UNM, Presbyterian and Lovelace health systems held a teleconference with reporters Monday to discuss COVID hospitalizations. Mitchell said the state’s largest hospitals are all operating beyond regular capacity. He said Presbyterian has no more ICU beds.

In fact, New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase said in an afternoon briefing that there were only one general hospital bed and one ICU bed available in Albuquerque on Monday morning. And that’s with some beds propped up in outpatient space and hallways, Scrase said.

“If you look at all the main hub hospitals, everyone is well above capacity in their ICUs,” Mitchell said.

The volume of COVID patients is far beyond what New Mexico hospitals have had before.

Melanie Mozes, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian, said Monday that Presbyterian has 292 COVID patients in its hospitals throughout the state, including 59 in the ICU.

The health system’s highest mark in the spring was in May, when there were 72 COVID patients at Presbyterian hospitals.

Officials at UNM and Lovelace declined Monday to provide specific data on patient volumes.

The Gibson Medical Center, a facility for COVID patients operated by the Department of Health, was expecting to be caring for three COVID patients Monday, said James Walton, a health department spokesman. The facility has treated as many as six COVID patients since it opened last month.

Holiday surge

At least some of the physicians at the teleconference were skeptical about whether New Mexico is experiencing a decline or plateau in new cases.

Because it was a holiday, many people last week may have put off getting tested or weren’t able to get tested because fewer employees were working at testing sites, Mitchell said.

Additionally, the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel won’t be known for some time. Those who caught the virus over the holiday likely won’t receive their positive test results for days, Mitchell said.

“I think that what we’re going to see is the Thanksgiving travel will manifest itself in about two weeks. That is when we will probably see these numbers go up,” McKee said. “I don’t expect that we’ve reached a peak at all. I do expect that … we’re going to have an increase in (hospitalized COVID patients) about two weeks from now.”

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