Chaves County’s total number of COVID-19 cases topped 2,000 Monday, the same day officials with the state’s three largest health care systems warned that hospitals and health care workers will not be able to keep up if the virus continues to spread at its current rate.
Chaves County recorded 39 new cases Monday and 42 on Sunday, giving a total of 2,001 cases since March, according to the daily updates from the New Mexico Department of Health.
On those two days, the state recorded more than 1,500 new cases — 828 on Sunday and 732 on Monday.
The state’s total number of cases is now 42,586.
The state also announced 11 additional deaths related to COVID-19 during those two days — two on Sunday and nine Monday.
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Sunday’s reported deaths were a man in his 70s from Bernalillo County and a man in his 20s from Lincoln County.
In Monday’s report, three of the deaths came from Bernalillo County — a woman in her 30s, a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 90s
Another two were from Doña Ana County. Both were women, one in her 60s and the other in her 70s.
The other deaths reported were a man in his 60s from Cibola County, a woman in her 90s from Sandoval County, a woman in her 50s from Socorro County and a man in his 40s from Valencia County.
The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New Mexico is now 976.
As of Monday, 76% of general beds at New Mexico hospitals are occupied and 70% of ICU beds in the state are filled. Those include the 289 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as well as other illnesses.
Monday, several New Mexico hospital officials said the rising numbers could effect health care across the state.
Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said his organization is seeing its highest volume of patients since the pandemic began. Of the several dozen COVID-19 patients at Presbyterian, about 30% are being treated in intensive care units.
While hospitals have been able to cross-train staff, move some workers around and bring others on board, Mitchell and officials with Lovelace Health System and the University of New Mexico Health System said there would not be enough workers or beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients or other medical emergencies if the pace of infection continues or grows over the next two months.
Modeling by scientists with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Presbyterian shows that around 900 additional COVID-19 cases a day fills about 180 ICU beds as a result, Mitchell said.
“If you got into a car wreck, there’d be no place for you to go. If you needed to deliver a baby, there may not be a bed in the hospital for you,” Mitchell said. “I mean really if it continued at this current velocity with no rollover, with no tempering back down, it’s hard to describe how catastrophic it is.”
The seven-day rolling average of New Mexico’s positive infection rate has risen from 3.2% of those tested at the end of September to 7.5%, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Comparing seven-day averages of newly confirmed cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.
In Chaves County, the latest available data shows the test positivity rate is even higher at 9.5%. That figure is a two-week average taken between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12. It will be updated Wednesday.
The county’s seven-day average for new daily cases has been on a downward trend, from a high of 36 on Oct. 14 to 14 per day on Oct. 23, according to the NMDH COVID-19 dashboard. However, not all positive tests from the last seven days may yet have been reported, a note on the website says.
New Mexico hospitals are coordinating with each other. Their contingency plans include measures such as using other areas to house patients, transferring patients to rural hospitals that have more room and reducing the number of elective surgeries as capacity shrinks.
The hospital officials also made another plea for people to wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance from other people.
UNM Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher acknowledged that the advice is contrary to human nature and that has been hard for some people.
“This is a marathon that we’re in and it’s clear that everyone is tired. The health care workforce is tired. People are tired,” Pitcher said. “But we are in the middle of a relatively significant surge of patients and now more than ever we really need to double down on those simple measures that we know are going to make a difference.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or email@example.com.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.