Doctors dread as hospitals at breaking point - Albuquerque Journal

Doctors dread as hospitals at breaking point

Lovelace Medical Center, in collaboration with the state Health Department, held a COVID-19 drive-through screening in April where asymptomatic people were allowed to get tested. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico reported seven deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday – the fewest casualties in a day since Nov. 15 – and state officials say there are some signs that spread of the virus is slowing.

But physicians at local hospitals say the facilities remain filled with patients. And hospital officials are preparing for a crisis in the near future.

“The numbers have come down just slightly but not enough. Our hospitals are full,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the chief medical officer for the Lovelace Health System. “We do not want to have to take this last step. We do not want to have to ration care.”

The “last step” would be if hospitals become pushed beyond their limits and health care workers have to rely on “crisis care” standards to help decide which patients would be given a priority to receive scarce medical resources. Such a scenario could mean that the resources are given to patients more likely to survive.

The seven deaths reported Monday dropped the state’s seven-day average of deaths to 26.86 per day, down from 30.14 deaths per day on Saturday. The seven deaths included four men in their 60s or 70s and three women in their 50s, 60s or 70s, according to state officials.

The statewide toll now stands at 1,756 COVID-related deaths.

A total of 1,872 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported on Monday. That’s in step with the seven-day average, which is 1,837. The state’s high mark of average cases per day was set on Nov. 24 with 2,669.

The surge in virus cases over the last few weeks has strained hospitals throughout the state.

Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in an executive order asked her medical advisory team to recommend if and when “crisis care” standards should be activated.

During a virtual news conference on Monday, top doctors for the Lovelace, Presbyterian and University of New Mexico health systems pleaded with the public to continue to wear masks, keep social distance and forgo large gatherings so that New Mexico hospitals don’t get to that point.

“Please, please don’t put us into that position to have to ration care,” said UNM Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irene Agostini. “If you are on the battlefield that’s one thing. But in a hospital in New Mexico, we never want to do that.”

There were 935 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout New Mexico on Monday, according to state officials.

Sandoval said there’s no clear marker, such as the number of COVID hospitalizations or the average number of cases, that would indicate the hospitals have to start using crisis care standards. A variety of factors, including the number of patients, hospital equipment, staff and other things, could push a health system to that point, she said.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase and other health care officials are scheduled to provide an update on COVID-19 standards of care on Tuesday.

The latest COVID statistics offer some signs that the spread of the virus is slowing.

The state’s spread rate is now 0.85, according to the Department of Health’s website. That’s the lowest rate in about four months.

The test positivity rate has dropped to 13% from 24% two weeks ago. There are about 14,000 COVID tests being done throughout the state every day, according to the Health Department.

Lujan Grisham ordered a two-week shutdown of much of New Mexico’s business activity in late November to try to slow the spread of the virus. “Some good news: our two-week reset had successful results,” Lujan Grisham said on Twitter on Monday, referring to a chart showing the seven-day average of cases on the decline. “If we continue to act like we did during the reset, staying home and not giving the virus opportunities to spread, we will continue to see results.”

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