Home Opinion Editorial We’re getting tired, but COVID isn’t

We’re getting tired, but COVID isn’t

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By David R. Scrase, M.D., Secretary, Human Services Department;
Denise A. Gonzales, M.D.;
Val Wangler, M.D., FAAFP, Chief Medical Officer, Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services

We continue to set New Mexico records for ourselves, and nationally, but not the ones we want:

• Daily case counts in the five, six and eight hundred range over the past week, with a trajectory that will take us more than twice as high as our last peak in July.

• Last week we had record daily case counts for every age group, which is particularly worrisome given the fact that patients 50-years of age and over account for most of the hospitalizations.

• Our test positivity rate is now above 5 percent, and approaching 10 percent, the highest since May — meaning we are likely missing cases and that case counts will further accelerate.

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• Our hospitals are filling rapidly, with record numbers of COVID-19 patients, and an increasing number of ICUs are becoming overfull, not only with COVID-19 patients but with patients who have delayed care for other conditions.

• Our modeling team analysis this week projects that we will have filled every one of our 290 baseline ICU beds and every one of our additional 140 contingency ICU beds in the next 2-4 weeks.

• The latest wave in COVID-19 cases is not isolated to the NW area — but includes Central and Southern New Mexico that previously were available to accept surges from NW but now are near capacity.

The experience of Northwest New Mexico and Navajo Nation early in the pandemic shows just how devastating COVID-19 can be when rates of community spread are high.

Abundant research in many types of jobs shows that when people get tired, they make more mistakes. But this isn’t about getting 8 hours of sleep — this is about the chronic fatigue we are all feeling about the pandemic — staying home, wearing masks, limiting social interactions, washing our hands.

All of us are missing something about life prior to the pandemic.

But we are in a marathon, which is 26.2 miles and by our back-of-the-envelope calculation, we are less than 10 miles into the race. Less than halfway. This prediction receives universal groans. Aargh!

One of the mistakes we all make is underestimating the chances that a COVID infection can occur within our family. Another one is underestimating how serious it can be. And of course, we all may get sick of wearing the mask and standing apart from others. We tell ourselves, “Just this one time. It won’t matter.”

But it all matters. And will continue to matter until a significant percentage of us are immune to the virus. Which means that a significant number of New Mexicans will have received the vaccine and mustered up a sufficient immune response. And most experts predict that will occur in the Fall of 2021. (Feel free to groan again.) Aargh!

We can’t afford to let up in our fight against this virus. We can’t afford to relax right now. We need to ensure that our hospitals have room, not just for those with COVID-19 infections, but for any of us who may need a hospital bed for any other reason. It could mean that your baby cannot be delivered in a hospital, that your loved one with a heart attack or stroke cannot receive care because all hospitals are full. Hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients hits every citizen when it comes to receiving usual care as well.

No one thinks “it” will ever happen to them, until it happens. Let’s get back to the basics: staying at home, wearing masks, keeping a 6-foot distance from others when we must go out, and frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizer.

Recent data suggests that the COVID virus can live on human skin for 9 hours but is completely eradicated in 15 seconds by alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

When all New Mexicans do these things, when we all fight back together, we push the virus back, and the daily case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths drop. Our modeling suggests that if we don’t change course, if we don’t act today, that we can expect over 1,000 daily cases and could double or triple our number of deaths by the end of this year.

The almost 1,000 New Mexico families who have empty places at their dinner table know the pain and loss that COVID-19 can bring, because it has happened to them. Let’s do all we can to make sure that it does not happen to our own families and our own communities.

We can do this, New Mexico.