LAS CRUCES – Eligible New Mexicans not vaccinated against COVID-19 continue to create shortages of hospital beds across the state, increasing the risk for those in need of urgent medical care.
At the same time, meticulous data from the state health ministry pointed to declining immunity among those vaccinated, creating an immediate need to get booster doses into as many arms as possible to stave off a worse surge.
During a remote press conference on November 10, officials from the New Mexico Department of Health said 76.9 percent of COVID-19 hospital admissions between October 11 and November 8 were unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people accounted for 71.6 percent of reported cases and 95 percent of deaths during this period.
By November 10, 73 percent of adults in New Mexico had completed a one or two-dose series of vaccinations, with 83.2 percent having taken at least one dose of a two-dose series. NMDOH data showed that 55 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 had completed a series of vaccinations and 63.4 percent had taken at least one dose. Recently, children between the ages of 5 and 11 received vaccines.
“So the progress is good, but there are still groups of people who get COVID and are spreading the virus across the state,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross.
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The NMDOH presented data showing that coronavirus cases were slowly ticking up across the state after plateauing last month.
Zero beds in the intensive care unit in Las Cruces
The situation is particularly dire in Las Cruces. The data presented during the press conference showed that as of November 9, there were no ICU beds and five medical or surgical beds available in the city, with the average of new cases showing levels not seen since January.
Doña Ana County reported 212 new cases on Wednesday. The state reported 1,337 new cases, 490 hospital admissions and 13 additional deaths from the virus, all numbers higher than the previous day.
Eight intensive care beds and 51 medical or surgical beds were open nationwide on November 9th.
“If anyone in the audience at this press conference is having a heart attack, there’s a good chance we won’t have an intensive care bed for that person here in New Mexico,” said Acting Health Secretary David Scrase.
Scrase said he was speaking to several hospital systems considering explaining emergency care standards, although he didn’t say which hospitals they were. The San Juan Regional Medical Center has already done this.
Mask requirement is to be extended
New Mexico quickly vaccinated its population and overtook much of the country in the spring. For Scrase, this could have resulted in a perfect storm of declining vaccine effectiveness combined with the rise of the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus.
Scrase said he believes some residents are less cautious and less adherent to COVID containment measures, while a more contagious variant of the virus is floating around.
“Perhaps we are all happy with COVID-safe practices both as individuals and as companies (and) as large gatherings,” said Scrase.
But the incumbent health minister didn’t seem sure how the state’s interior mask mandate, which is to be extended, will be enforced against non-compliance. The mandate should expire on Friday.
“The state just can’t enforce every single mask violation,” said Scrase. “I think there is a balance between personal responsibility, community responsibility and state responsibility. We can’t always be everywhere. We seek to respond to complaints, and will continue to do so, bringing about a cultural shift in how we feel about wearing masks and protection. “
Increase in breakthrough infections
The data held by the NMDOH, which showed groundbreaking COVID-19 cases in vaccinated people along with the date of their last vaccine dose, showed an increase in groundbreaking cases the further away from a person’s final dose, the average number of days before someone had a breakthrough infection after 170 or 5½ months.
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The breakthrough infection rate in New Mexico remains low, accounting for 1.5 to 2.5 percent of the total vaccinated population.
For state health authorities, this shows the continuing need for eligible vulnerable residents to receive booster vaccinations or for parents to vaccinate their eligible children.
To date, more than 230,000 new Mexicans have received a booster vaccination.
Michael McDevitt is the city and county government reporter for Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.