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Officials urge COVID-safe practices for Thanksgiving

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As the state and the nation get closer to Thanksgiving, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials implored New Mexicans to use COVID-safe practices in their holiday gatherings to not only keep their families from getting the disease but also to help relieve the burden on health care workers.

New cases of COVID-19 remain high, with more than 1,500 cases reported Wednesday by the New Mexico Department of Health.

“As the holidays are quickly approaching, all of us, myself included, are looking forward to spending time with our families,” Lujan Grisham said during a livestreamed press conference Wednesday afternoon.

She urged New Mexicans to have smaller gatherings for Thanksgiving, spend time outside if possible and wear masks except when eating.

“Anything we do stops the spread, blunts the ability of this virus to create havoc in our healthcare system, in our communities. It means a quicker access point to more normalcy, more freedoms away from this virus. Schools and businesses deserve the ability to know that every single week they aren’t going to have one of their students or one of their workers in isolation,” she said.

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The best way to stop the spread is for everyone who can to be vaccinated, Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary for NMDOH, said.

He also spoke of a many-layered “Swiss cheese” approach to prevention that includes physical distancing, hand washing, avoiding crowds, wearing well-fitting masks, testing, and quarantining if needed.

Scrase said conditions continue to be strained at the state’s hospitals. Six hospitals have now declared crisis standards of care, he said.

“This is a very difficult time for health care workers, not just because of the exhaustion of being at this for 20 months now, but also the frustration of dealing with what has now become a largely preventable disease,” he said.

He said 71.3% of the state’s COVID-19 cases, 79.2% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 91.6% of COVID-19 deaths are among the unvaccinated. Only 10 intensive care beds were available in the state as of Tuesday.

“That’s still nowhere near enough ICU beds. What this does mean is someone having a heart attack right now may or may not have access to ICU care in New Mexico and, frankly, as cases start rising again in other states, we may not find a bed there,” he said.

“We continue to transfer 40 to 80 people per week out of the state for hospital care. We tend to take about two or three transfers from out of state into the state for hospital care, so a dramatic difference that indicates New Mexico’s low hospital capacity and the struggle of staffing,” he said.

One bit of good news, Scrase said, is that preliminary data on antiviral pills showed they could lead to more outpatient treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Merck this week each applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of their antiviral pills.

“Preliminary data on some of these antivirals show a reduction of hospitalization of up to 90%,” Scrase said.

Monoclonal antibodies, an intravenous treatment, have been shown to reduce hospitalizations up to 75%, he said. That treatment also requires time in the hospital for the infusion, which takes up resources such as beds and staffing.

“As a physician I’m particularly excited about this. This might be one of the most significant advances for the world in terms of learning to live with COVID is that people get tested quickly and go on early oral therapy,” he said.

“The downside of this is we are quite certain that we will not get a large supply of this when it first starts,” he said.

“We’ve been told by the federal government to start passing out some of these drugs by the end of this month. We’ll see if that timeline holds,” he said.

Scrase also mentioned New Mexico had seen another death of an individual taking ivermectin, a drug used to fight parasites in animals and humans. It has not been approved as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19.

In August, two New Mexicans who were treating themselves for COVID-19 with ivermectin died. The more recent case was a 60-year-old man who took 150 milligrams of the medicine. Scrase did not say where he was from.

A normal dose for humans is 3 milligrams a day, Scrase said.

“This gentleman took 150 milligrams, had liver failure, kidney failure and actually died from the ivermectin without COVID,” he said.

In Wednesday’s daily case update from NMDOH, 31 counties reported 1,530 new cases of COVID-19. Chaves County reported 39.

The total number of cases in the state since March 2020 is now 298,313, including 13,367 in Chaves County.

Twelve deaths related to COVID-19 were also reported. Four of the deceased were from Otero County, three from San Juan County, two from Bernalillo County and one each from Catron, Lincoln and Quay counties.

The total number of deaths in New Mexico is now 5,215 including 213 in Chaves County. As of Wednesday, 539 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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