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Hospital leaders work on guidelines for New Mexicans

University of New Mexico COVID-19 vaccine clinic head Gianna Chavez during the first day of the vaccination clinic at The Pit on Jan. 20. The clinic will take a “pause” while awaiting additional vaccine supplies. (Source: New Mexico Department Of Health)

Leaders of Albuquerque-area health systems on Monday said they weren’t quite ready to embrace the CDC’s new guidelines for fully vaccinated people — but guidance for vaccinated New Mexicans may be coming soon.

The CDC on Monday released public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people, which include that they can congregate with each other.

The recommendations come as a growing number of New Mexicans have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and there is a declining number of COVID cases in the state. New Mexico reported 126 new COVID cases and three additional deaths on Monday, which was the smallest number of deaths in a day since late October.

During a teleconference Monday, top physicians at Albuquerque-area hospitals said they will meet together Tuesday to discuss a consistent message for New Mexicans who have received their COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC’s new recommendations say that after getting vaccinated, people can gather indoors without masks or physical distancing with other vaccinated people, or unvaccinated people in limited circumstances.

The CDC is advising that people continue to wear masks and physically distance in public places even after being vaccinated.

Dr. Rohini McKee, the chief quality and safety officer for University of New Mexico Hospital, urged all people to continue wearing masks and avoiding indoor gatherings.

“To stop those behaviors now would be like stopping at the 24th mile of the marathon. We don’t want to do that,” she said. “We have all sacrificed so much to get here, so we urge you to hang in there a little bit longer.”

The demand for vaccines currently far outweighs the supply, leaving most people waiting.

In New Mexico, a little more than 25% of people older than 16 have been at least partially vaccinated and 14.5% have received both doses, according to a state vaccine dashboard. The CDC says that a person is fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or two weeks after the single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Health care officials have said that the number of vaccines administered in New Mexico has already contributed to a downturn in COVID cases.

There were 136 patients hospitalized with COVID on Monday, which Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the chief medical officer at the Lovelace Health System called “remarkable.”

“Our numbers have come down, we want to keep them there,” she said. “We want to keep it up, so please stay consistent and please seek out a vaccine.”

Despite the positive statistics, McKee expressed concerns that changing behavior now could increase the spread of coronavirus variants.

“While the vaccines are here and we are doing a great job as a state getting shots into arms, we know there are a lot of variants stirring,” she said. “It is almost as if we are in a race to vaccinate the population before any variants can cause any more mischief.”

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