SANTA FE, New Mexico — The chief medical officer for the largest hospital system in New Mexico said Thursday that the state is at a pivotal point with the coronavirus as a new high was set for the daily case count and hospitalizations hit record levels.
Dr. Jason Mitchell with Presbyterian Healthcare Services said during a briefing (you can watch it in the video player above) that the data and modeling is clear that New Mexico's health care system will face a crisis if the spread of Covid-19 continues at its current rate. He warned that by December, equipment like ventilators would have to be shared and hospitals would have to set up tents in parking lots to make room for patients.
“Our goal is to ensure transmission is low enough so we never hit that point,” he said. “This is a serious call to action for us as a community.”
New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began, with state officials saying the number of people in hospital beds due to a Covid-19 infection has increased more than 50% in just seven days.
The number of deaths also are on the rise as daily case counts have increased more than 15% in the past seven days compared to the previous week. In all, nearly 1,000 people have died in New Mexico and Thursday's count of confirmed infections — 1,082 — smashed a record that was set just days ago.
New Mexico's top health officials and hospital administrators are concerned that people are not following the state's public health order, which calls for residents to stay at home as much as possible and avoid contact with other people. They are pleading with people to find other ways to celebrate Halloween rather than letting their children go door to door in search for treats.
Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said a change in public behavior can't happen soon enough. He likened the situation to driving on ice.
“Even if you fully stop the wheels from turning, we’re still going to slide for another two weeks with new cases,” he explained.
Mitchell echoed the concern, saying the curve's trajectory becomes even steeper with higher rates of spread, leading to a doubling of cases in a matter of a couple weeks.
“We are not past the tipping point, which is great, but we do have to make changes as a community,” he said. “All the models agree on this. It’s really, really clear. Separate sets of scientists, separate methodologies all point in the same direction.”
Like Presbyterian, officials at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center said the Covid-19 unit at the Santa Fe hospital is about three times as full as it was in the spring. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gonzales said hospitals around the state already are opening other units on their campuses to accommodate the increase but having the health care workers to staff those extra beds is a concern.
The hospital officials also stressed the state mandate for mask wearing. It's the focus of a new public service campaign launched by Presbyterian that features ads showing people wearing face coverings and a call to protect moms, dads, grandparents and others by “masking up.”