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At the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital ICU on Thursday, there were 22 patients in a unit licensed for 20 beds, and 90% of the kids were intubated or using a breathing tube as they battled respiratory viruses, according to hospital officials.
Throughout New Mexico, 14.3% of hospital patients are fighting an influenza-like illness as the state continues to see a surge of viruses. Those viruses include COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
That’s a much bigger share of cases than normal, according to the Department of Health. Usually, about 3.9% of patients have an influenza-like illness.
Health officials on Thursday gave an update on COVID and other viruses that are spreading throughout the state. Pediatric units, in particular, are reporting that they are well above their operating capacity because of a surge in sick children.
“We are seeing this in younger populations, including infants,” said Dr. Anna Duran, associate chief medical officer of the UNM Children’s Hospital. “Many children are needing a higher level of care, and that includes needing high-flow oxygen.”
She said young patients with RSV are driving the surge in pediatric units. The majority of those children are 4 or younger. But the hospital is also treating children for flu and COVID, and some are hospitalized with multiple viruses, she said.
At any given time, she said, about 100 adults and 10 to 20 children at UNMH are waiting for a bed.
In addition to the RSV cases filling children’s hospitals, the state saw an increase in COVID cases this week.
On Thursday, New Mexico reported seven more COVID-related deaths, pushing the toll to 8,736 since the start of the pandemic, which was a little more than 1,000 days ago.
The state reported 4,489 new cases the week ending Dec. 5. That was about a 28% increase from the week before, when the state reported 3,499 cases.
A total of 161 people with COVID were admitted to hospitals in New Mexico during the week ending Dec. 5, which was about a 6.6% increase over the week before.
Duran urged parents and patients to seek out the appropriate level of care so patients don’t further overcrowd emergency rooms with illnesses that could be treated elsewhere. The different options are an emergency room, urgent care, primary care or care at home.
“We want you to come to the emergency room if you need emergency care,” Duran said. “But, please be aware that your wait times may be very long depending on what is wrong with you.”
Last week, amid a rising number of pediatric patients, Dr. David Scrase, acting health secretary, issued a public health order that returned hospitals to the “hub-and-spoke” model of patient triage, which was used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The order said the number of respiratory viruses, a shortage of hospital staff and a scarcity of certain types of medical equipment made it necessary for hospitals to return to that model, which allows hospitals to more easily transfer patients based on the availability of resources.
Duran said many of the sickest children from around the state have been transferred to Albuquerque to be treated at UNMH or Presbyterian hospitals. She said patients in other parts of the state are treating less sick children.
“We sort of turn the whole state into one giant hospital and we’re transferring people from, like the second-floor general medical bed at San Juan Regional Medical Center, down to an ICU in Las Cruces. That’s not our preferred course of action. But we have had to come together to consolidate, particularly pediatric resources, right now,” Scrase said of the model. “And I’m predicting it will happen with adults in the next couple of weeks, as well.”
To help slow the spread of the viruses, the health officials urged people to stay up to date on vaccines, consider wearing a mask in some settings, and for children and adults to stay home if sick.
“Don’t go to work sick. We need to have a new society,” Scrase said. “I’m one of those people who has taken (very few) sick days in my whole career. It’s sort of a badge-of-honor to come to work miserable. We need to obliterate that way of thinking. … Not going to work sick is probably one of the most important interventions that everyone in the workplace can make to minimize transmission.”