Giving antibodies at MDC will help community - Albuquerque Journal

Giving antibodies at MDC will help community

As New Mexico prepares for another wave of COVID cases, our state’s health care institutions are being stretched to a breaking point. At the University of New Mexico Hospital, where I see patients, our ICU was above 130% capacity (the week ending on Dec. 19) and other hospitals in Albuquerque are experiencing similar challenges. Another spike will only exacerbate this situation, and we need to draw upon all of our available resources to protect our communities.

Any comprehensive strategy must address the unique risk of exposure to and infection from COVID-19 in our state’s jails and prisons.

Prisons and jails have been the sites for the largest outbreaks of the pandemic. These outbreaks rarely remain confined behind bars because both corrections workers and incarcerated individuals return to their families and communities. This is especially true for infections that arise in jails, where the average length of stay for incarcerated persons is days to weeks. For example, researchers estimated individuals cycling through one large jail – Cook County Jail – accounted for nearly 16% of all documented COVID cases in Chicago and the entire state of Illinois.

New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the United States overall, and infection control strategies such as mass quarantines will not be enough to prevent another increase in cases. At the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County, we have already seen cases spike throughout the pandemic. It is in the best interest of those behind bars, corrections officers and their communities to provide ready access to proven treatments for COVID. One option is monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibodies come packaged and ready to provide a quick defense against COVID. They should be given as soon as possible after diagnosis with symptomatic disease as well as to individuals who have been in close contact with a COVID patient. When used in this manner, research has shown they can prevent severe illness and hospitalization.

Incarcerated individuals often have chronic conditions that we know are associated with poor outcomes from COVID. Yet, to date, most U.S. counties, including Bernalillo County, have not provided easy access to monoclonal antibodies in jail. Officials should change this and create a program that allows for the mass treatment of eligible individuals at MDC. This can prevent the spread of COVID at MDC, which will in turn have a positive impact on the broader Albuquerque community, including preventing stress on the overburdened health care system and saving health care dollars.

In order to do this, Bernalillo County and MDC officials will have to move quickly. Staff, providers and nurses need to be educated about and trained on the rollout of this treatment and work to identify all eligible individuals – including staff – who want to receive the antibodies. This treatment strategy should go hand in hand with continued preventive efforts to provide COVID vaccines and boosters.

With high rates of COVID already present at MDC, the jail could see wider spread and act as a source of infection when people are released to their families and communities this winter. If these incarcerated individuals, staff and family members become severely ill with COVID, they will arrive at Albuquerque’s already impacted hospitals. Bernalillo County can and should prevent this scenario by making monoclonal antibodies available at MDC immediately.


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