Daily virus numbers drop to 6-week low

Kathy Parkhill, a registered nurse at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, gives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Adrian Perea, a firefighter for the city of Santa Fe last week. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The entire health care workforce at Albuquerque and Santa Fe hospitals could be vaccinated against the coronavirus in a matter of weeks, according to top physicians at those facilities.

Meanwhile, state officials said residents and staff at nursing homes could begin receiving their vaccinations this week.

That news came Monday as the state’s daily virus numbers showed signs of improvement.

New Mexico reported 826 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the first time in more than six weeks that the state reported fewer than 1,000 cases in a day. The state also reported nine deaths on Monday, which dropped the state’s seven-day average to 28.86, about a 20% decrease from 35.86 deaths per day the state averaged Thursday.

Despite the improvements, physicians at local hospitals stressed during a news conference that the pandemic is far from over. And they said they remain worried that Christmas and New Year’s gatherings could lead to a surge of infections that could push the hospitals to the point at which they will have to start rationing care.

“It’s been a week of excitement. … People have been receiving the vaccine, and it’s going very smoothly,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer at Lovelace Health System. “They feel a huge sense of relief.”

Sandoval, as well as physicians at University of New Mexico Hospital, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said none of their employees who have received vaccinations have reported significant side effects.

Still, it’s no time to celebrate, they said.

“We’re not done yet,” Sandoval said. “Our numbers are still very high in the hospitals.”

There were 796 people with COVID-19 hospitalized throughout the state on Monday, the first time it was below 800 in almost a month.

Dr. Denise Gonzales, medical director at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the state’s largest hospitals are operating at about 130% of their licensed capacity.

“We’re right on the brink. And it’s not just one hospital. It’s all the major hospitals. They are right at the brink,” she said. “A significant uptick could cause them to have to ration care.”

The people whose deaths were reported Monday ranged in age from a Bernalillo County woman in her 50s to a Bernalillo County man in his 90s.

The statewide tally of coronavirus-related deaths now stands at 2,180.

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county, had the most new cases reported Monday, with 293. San Juan County, in northwestern New Mexico, was second, with 96.

State officials acknowledged that New Mexico has made progress.

But concern remains high heading into the holidays.

“It’s clear that New Mexico has made progress in slowing the spread, even after the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Matt Bieber, a spokesman for the Department of Health. “That being said, the risk of transmission remains high and underscores the importance of maintaining COVID-safe practices throughout the holiday season.”

Last week, the state’s front-line hospital workers started to get vaccinated against coronavirus. Thousands of health care workers, many of whom interact directly with COVID-positive patients, received the first of two shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Residents and staffers at New Mexico nursing homes could begin getting a COVID-19 vaccine this week, as more vaccine doses arrive in the state.

A spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday that New Mexico has started to receive initial shipments of a just-approved Moderna vaccine that’s targeted primarily at those who live and work in such long-term care facilities.

More shipments are expected to arrive Tuesday, with the state scheduled to get 31,600 doses of the vaccine in its initial allotment, Lujan Grisham spokesman Matt Nerzig said.

The state is also scheduled to get an additional 12,675 doses of a Pfizer vaccine – down from last week’s amount – which is being used to vaccinate front-line health care workers.

Twenty-five hospitals around New Mexico will receive Pfizer vaccine distributions from the Department of Health on Tuesday, according to state officials.

Two additional hospitals – UNMH and Presbyterian – were scheduled to get shipments directly on Monday.

In addition, Nerzig said, the statewide distribution of the Pfizer vaccine has not been solely based on population, as three Native American pueblos – Acoma, Laguna and Picuris – received 450 doses of the vaccine last week, which is a larger share than their population would suggest.

“The governor directed the Department of Health to allocate more than the pueblos’ weekly pro rata share for several reasons, including the fact they have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and that as a practical matter we need to administer the vaccine in larger increments,” Nerzig told the Journal.

He also said the three pueblos would not be receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

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