This map shows the COVID-19 risk and restriction levels of the counties in New Mexico. Courtesy of the State of New Mexico

The bi-weekly media coronavirus update March 8 almost seemed like a rerun of previous updates, with the four featured doctors happy to see the state’s progress in the battle vs. COVID-19.
Hospitalizations and deaths are dropping, with vaccinations on the rise. The doctors continued the advice to stay masked, avoid large indoor gatherings and socially distance.
“The faster you vaccinate your community, the less the virus has to spread,” said University of New Mexico Hospital Chief Quality and Safety Officer Dr. Rohini McKee, adding that the two variants aren’t doing very well against people who have been vaccinated.
No matter which of the three FDA-approved vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — is used, “All of these vaccines are equally effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths,” said Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales.
She reported the statewide Presbyterian system had just 41 COVID patients among its facilities that day.
McKee said there’s a “race to vaccinate the state’s population before the variants can cause any more mischief,” and that New Mexicans shouldn’t treat this as if they’re running a marathon and stopping at mile 24.
“We have sacrificed so much to get here,” she said.
In other updates, Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval said Lovelace had five or six COVID patients, and CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gonzales reported five COVID patients at his facility.
Close to 14,000 Pfizer doses had been administered to date, he said: 7,663 had been first doses, and 6,315 had been second doses. Additionally, Gonzales said, 1,200 or so doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered to mostly senior citizens March 6.
Also, the experts reported, in the event of circumstances that prevent a second dose — three weeks after the first Pfizer shot, four weeks after the initial Moderna dose — a maximum of six weeks would still be considered as safe for the booster.

Sandoval County remains Yellow
The New Mexico Department of Health on Wednesday announced the updated statewide COVID-19 map for the two-week period beginning March 10, with Sandoval County still in the Yellow designation.
Seven New Mexico counties are at the Turquoise level and seven at the Green level, at which there are fewer restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities amid decreased virus risk.
Sandoval County is one of 18 Yellow counties. Through March’s first 11 days, Sandoval County reported eight deaths, following 51 in January and 21 in February.
One county (Guadalupe) is at the Red Level, signifying very high risk.

Update for seniors
The NMDOH announced Thursday that going forward, New Mexicans 60 years and older with a chronic condition that places them at severe risk of COVID-related health complications will be prioritized for vaccination appointments within the larger pool of New Mexicans with a chronic health condition.
Four groups of New Mexicans are eligible for vaccine:
• Phase 1A (primarily health care workers);
• People 75 years and older;
• Educators, early childhood professionals and school staff; and
• New Mexicans with a chronic health condition.
More than a quarter of New Mexico’s population has a chronic health condition.
“Age is the single most important predictor of COVID-related vulnerability, and some health conditions place residents at much greater risk of COVID-related health complications,” said DOH Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins. “Prioritizing vaccine for New Mexicans in these groups will save lives.”

Teachers will receive shots
The New Mexico Department of Health announced March 8 that all K-12 educators, early childhood professionals and related staff were eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine beginning that day.
In keeping with a White House directive — President Joe Biden wants all educators in the U.S. vaccinated by the end of this month — the state will offer first shots to these groups over about three weeks. Those within the Albuquerque Metro Area can be vaccinated beginning March 15.
“The state has already vaccinated approximately 15,000 educators, and we are eager to continue our nation-leading distribution effort,” Collins said.

Reflections on a year of COVID
“Reflecting on the past year, thinking back to where we were last March and all that has happened since, more than anything else, I am genuinely and incredibly proud of New Mexicans,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said March 11. “As I said in my State of the State address, we are processing the strains of grief, challenged by anxiety about the future, exhausted after months of uncertainty and upheaval. But we have — all of us, in our own individual way — fought for one another, stepped up to protect one another, made sacrifices for people we may never meet but whose health and safety we can take comfort in knowing we helped preserve.’
Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said the state’s Medical Advisory Team brought the health care delivery system into a single effort to ensure New Mexico was prepared, every resource was used wisely and health care didn’t have to be formally rationed.
“Without the combination of these efforts, we would have seen over 9.2 times as many COVID-19 cases … and four times as many deaths (18,951),” he said. “Knowing that we have saved over 15,000 New Mexican lives is incredibly gratifying for every State of New Mexico and health care employee. Every day, we are vaccinating more than 40 people for each new case — which is rapidly accelerating our progress toward the end of this pandemic.”

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer