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SANTA FE – A military medical team is expected to arrive in New Mexico over the next week to help understaffed hospitals amid a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 infections.
New Mexico is one of six states set to receive the teams – a deployment announced Thursday by President Joe Biden at the White House.
Some hospitals in Albuquerque are treating people in hallways, and in one case, a parking-lot tent, as COVID-19 infections add to an already heavy load of patients.
The state reported more than 5,500 new cases Thursday – blowing past the previous record of 4,200 for a day, set last week. Hospitalizations for the disease jumped to 609 patients, a 13% increase from a week ago.
The Department of Defense medical team, state officials said, is expected to include about 25 personnel and will be focused on the University of New Mexico Hospital.
“Having these resources for hospitals is critical,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday in an Albuquerque news conference.
The next six weeks, she said, will be a critical time for hospitals as the omicron variant takes hold in New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham suggested she is also considering whether to call on the National Guard to help schools hit by staffing shortages.
At least 10 districts are moving back to online learning temporarily as COVID-19 spreads among students, teachers and school employees.
Lujan Grisham said her administration is speaking with Santa Fe Public Schools and other districts about how to help. She didn’t share details, but said an announcement will come soon.
“We have a proposal that I don’t think exists anywhere in the nation – about what we can do about getting bodies who productively and safely can support our schools to stay open,” she said.
Earlier this week, the state Public Education Department shortened the isolation and quarantine guidelines for school students and staff. People should isolate themselves for five days after a positive COVID-19 test or the onset of symptoms – not 10 days, a change that matches state and federal guidelines.
A corresponding change also applies to the quarantine period for people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
A five-day quarantine, however, is not required for adults who are up to date on their vaccinations, including boosters, among other exceptions.
New high for cases
The 5,547 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday are a new record for a single day. They include 1,513 new infections in Bernalillo County and 994 in Doña Ana County.
The state Department of Health also announced 36 more COVID-19 deaths, 21 of which occurred within the past 30 days. The remainder happened earlier, but are being reported now after a delay in processing death certificates.
The official statewide death toll is now 6,109 residents.
People who are not fully vaccinated make up about 92% of the virus fatalities over the past month, 60% of the cases and 83% of the hospitalizations, according to state data.
The state defines someone as not fully vaccinated if they either have not received any vaccine, or if it’s been less than two weeks since they had a Johnson & Johnson shot or the second of the two doses required for Moderna or Pfizer.
Even with record-breaking case totals over the past week, New Mexico still appears to be in the early stages of what officials have said could be a six-week omicron wave.
Infections have exploded so much in other parts of the country that New Mexico still ranks much better than average, even as infections climb.
The state was No. 12 on Thursday for fewest reported cases per capita over the past week, a figure that does not include Thursday’s case total, according to federal data.
Recent deaths in New Mexico, by contrast, have been among the worst. The state ranked fifth for most deaths per capita over the past seven days, according to federal data.
Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to get a booster shot if they’re eligible and to avoid large crowds.
She suggested people in charge of large events, especially indoor ones, postpone them.
“Just voluntarily,” Lujan Grisham said, “we can all do better at preventing the spread.”
The deployment of the military medical team, Lujan Grisham said, comes after governors asked the president for more help.
The team heading to UNM Hospital is expected to be on hand for about 30 days.
It’s the third of its kind sent to New Mexico in recent months. Two Navy teams have served the San Juan Regional Medical Center in the Four Corners area.
Based on the omicron data from other countries, Lujan Grisham said, “we’re in a situation where we have six weeks before we start to see some reasonable stabilization or declines. We need to brace ourselves.”