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New Mexico Hospitals Remain Strained Despite Smaller COVID Test Positivity Rate

Sep 2, 2021

Credit Memorial Medical Center, Las Cruces

ICU bed availability in New Mexico remains scarce, with only 30 vacant ICU beds available statewide as of August 31. The New Mexico Department of Health reported only three vacant ICU beds in the Las Cruces area.

Acting NMDOH Secretary Dr. David Scrase says that while crisis standards of care have not yet needed to be activated, the strain on the hospital system remains considerable.

“We already have all of the actual beds full,” Scrase said. “And so, these are stretch beds where we converted areas, and we still have some room there, which is good, but very, very tight.”

Although the Children’s Hospital Association is reporting a lack of both resources and staff for pediatric patients nationwide, Scrase says hospitalization rates among children have not increased significantly in New Mexico.

“We are not seeing that rise, and we’re not sure why we’re not seeing that rise,” Scrase said. “It could be that we have a better than average vaccination rate, so that vaccinated people in the state are providing more protection for young people who don't have the opportunity to be vaccinated yet.”

Another encouraging sign is the state’s test positivity rate, which has decreased approximately 1.2% since August 9. Despite being an early indicator of diminishing cases, the test positivity rate is still significantly higher than the 2.5% rate recorded in early July.    

“Now it's starting to trend down and really just hugging that 7.5 line,” Scrase said. “Usually that test positivity coming down is one of the early warning signs that you might be starting to flatten the curve.”

NMDOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross says there is potential evidence of a plateau in COVID-19 cases, though more data still needs to be collected.  

“We hope that we are seeing the semblance or the beginning of a possible plateau, though it's too early to say that for sure now,” Ross said. “But we have seen a deceleration in the number of new cases.” 

One of the areas hardest hit by the virus in recent weeks has been the southeast region of the state. There, only 45.6% of adults are fully vaccinated, compared with an adult vaccination rate of over 66% in the northwest.

“What's interesting here is that it correlates,” Ross said. “What we see is this pattern or relationship between highest case rates or burden of infections, being in areas where we have lowest vaccination coverage.”

Statewide, around 67.7% of adults in New Mexico are fully vaccinated. In Doña Ana County, that number is slightly higher—71.6% of adult residents have received both doses of the vaccine. Ross stressed that increasing the vaccination rate, especially in the areas with higher case counts, will help the virus from spiking back up.

“We’re not really sure that there is a sort of magical number that we can reach and where life is going to return to normal,” Ross said. “I think that we will be dealing with this for a while. But the most important thing is that we have now, unlike what was happening a short while ago, we now have a really highly effective countermeasure to fight this pandemic, and that is vaccination.”

More information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine can be found on the NMDOH website.