New Mexico is experiencing community transmission of COVID-19.
Seventy of 83 cases the state had identified as of Monday involved travel-related transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. That means the person acquired it while traveling, or came into contact with someone who travelled.
But 13 are community-acquired, which is more worrisome to public health experts. The cases signal the virus is loose in the community, possibly spreading undetected and at a rate that’s unknown. The virus doesn’t just spread from one person to another, but potentially from one person to many given how many other people an individual can come into contact with during their daily lives. That’s why officials have been calling repeatedly and loudly for social distancing.
The community-transmission cases have been identified in just two of 11 counties with positive cases — Bernalillo and Santa Fe, Jodi McGinnis Porter of the New Mexico Human Services Department told New Mexico In Depth in an email Monday. Patients had not recently traveled out of state or been in close contact with others who had.
The state’s decision to prohibit gatherings of more than five people (other than household members in homes) on Monday is meant to limit the opportunity for further spread of the disease through the community, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at Monday’s press conference, at which she announced a stay-at-home order and business closures.
The good news: thus far, no patients have died and no cases have yet been identified at New Mexico nursing homes facilities, McGinnis Porter reported.
Nine New Mexico patients have been hospitalized, including one Arizona resident, the governor said yesterday. Three remained in critical condition and required intubation; two were stable and three had been released, the governor and state officials said.
One large Albuquerque area hospital is setting up outdoor triage and intake tents.
“Some Presbyterian facilities already have outdoor tent areas available for use if needed,” Jeff Salvon-Harman, M.D., chief patient safety officer and medical director for infection control at Presbyterian Healthcare Services said. “All other locations will be setting them up this week. These will be used as intake areas for patients with COVID-19 symptoms so that they can be assessed before entering the Emergency Department.”
Testing Remains a Challenge
Testing capacity remains a challenge. As of Monday evening, the state health lab and TriCore Reference Laboratories had completed 5,973 COVID-19 swab tests, with approximately 1,800 more awaiting processing, McGinnis Porter said.
Turnaround time from test submission to result is currently “two to three days,” she told New Mexico In Depth, though additional time might be needed to communicate test results to physicians and patients.
Limited supplies of testing swabs and lab supplies have slowed testing in New Mexico and across the nation, Lujan Grisham said Monday. The state is “working to remove those challenges,” she said.
Eight hundred and fifty tests can be completed daily, Lujan Grisham said. It was not immediately clear if that number included TriCore Reference Lab’s newly announced increase in testing capacity. (New equipment will allow the lab to process an additional 500 tests per day, the lab announced Monday.)
Hospital ventilators, which help patients breathe when they can no longer do so on their own, remain available if needed, state officials said Monday. During Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak, ventilators have been in short supply and patients have died for lack of access to one.
Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque has secured additional ventilators and is seeking more, a spokeswoman said Monday. She could not immediately respond to a request for the number of ventilators at the hospital. Other Albuquerque hospitals have not yet disclosed how many ventilators they have.
The state has not yet requested its allotted 100 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile.
“At present we haven’t reached the ventilator capacity in the state,” McGinnis Porter told New Mexico In Depth in an email. “We do have the ability to ask for our allotted [SNS ventilators] and our hospitals are able to utilize the equipment in operating rooms, cardiac catheterization labs, and GI [gastrointestinal medicine] labs.”
McGinnis Porter did not immediately respond to an emailed question about why the state is holding off on requesting more ventilators, given problems with medical equipment and supplies already released by the SNS.
The Trump Administration has released only a portion of each state’s allotted medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile and much of what was released could not be utilized because expiration dates had lapsed, the governor said.