It might not be that long before you’ll be able to visit a Walgreens or CVS pharmacy and get vaccinated — by students, EMTs or even mobile units, the media learned Monday morning in another virtual media conference with three key hospital experts in the state.
University of New Mexico Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher, Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales and Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval agreed that they’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and, with their employees getting vaccinated, morale has improved — “the added juice to go forward,” Pitcher noted.
Some workers initially hesitant to get their shots changed their minds after seeing their vaccinated co-workers hadn’t suffered any ill effects, Sandoval said.
Through Jan. 10:
• 65 percent of Lovelace’s health care workers had been vaccinated, which Sandoval estimated to be around 3,000;
• 11,000 doses had been administered to Presbyterian workers, which includes Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho; and
• Some 10,000 shots had taken care of about 75 percent of UNM’s health care workers, including those at Sandoval Regional Medical Center, also in the City of Vision.
The three were happy to report that influenza cases have dropped, thanks probably to more people getting their flu shots, coupled with so many people wearing masks, which help reduce the spread.
All three also emphasized the need to get vaccinated, which can be done by registering first with the state Department of Health at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org or by calling 1-855-600-3453.
“It’s well worth your time to get vaccinated,” Sandoval said.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the state is in the 1B tier of Phase 1, consisting of those 75 years of age and older, individuals 16 or older with underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk from COVID-19, frontline essential workers who cannot work remotely and vulnerable populations.
That vaccination period is expected to run through the winter, with the 1C tier — adults 60 and older, and more essential workers unable to work remotely — set for the spring.
During this Phase 1, supplies will be limited. The federal government is distributing COVID-19 vaccines in weekly allotments to states over the next three to six months. Those allotments are insufficient to vaccinate all New Mexicans.
In Phase 2, planned for the summer, every New Mexico resident who wishes to be vaccinated will have a chance.
All three cited the state’s success in the battle against the pandemic to the collaboration — unprecedented, Gonzales said — among the trio of hospitals and the state DOH.
The doctors again advised people to be vigilant, remain away from groups of people and keep wearing masks.
“COVID-count numbers may be coming down, but this is our high season,” Gonzales said.
UNMH and SRMC are “running beyond full … well over our licensed capacity,” Pitcher said, although not all of the beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.
State-wide, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Jan. 14 was 691, 100 fewer than on New Year’s Day — the second-lowest of the month. However, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase noted Thursday, 22 of 24 New Mexico hospitals reported critical staff shortages.
DOH Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins reported Thursday that 153,475 doses of vaccine have been delivered to the state; 100,601 shots had been given; and 38,749 people had received vaccinations over the past seven days.
In the latest “Red to Green” report, issued Wednesday, Sandoval County was among 17 counties in the state that saw test-positivity rates increase. Only one county (Harding) was categorized as “green,” the first to achieve that rating, while only Union County went to “yellow” for the next two weeks.
It seemed New Mexico hadn’t yet seen the post-Christmas spike predicted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, which many states have been experiencing, most notably California.
Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged the importance of keeping the “three legs” intact: contact tracing, testing and vaccinations, and said she’d seen a drop-off in testing.
“We can’t have that,” she said.
UNM doing its part
The Pit at the University of New Mexico is being transformed into a mass vaccination site for UNM Health officials to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the public, according to a university news release.
“The University of New Mexico has been an essential partner to our communities in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and welcomes any opportunity to contribute to and serve them,” said UNM President Garnett Stokes.
Variant enters the state
The state Department of Health announced Wednesday that a man in his 60s has the B117 coronavirus variant after traveling to the United Kingdom in December. It was the first time this COVID-19 variant case was announced in New Mexico.
According to the DOH, there’s no evidence the variant makes the disease more severe or that it will change the effectiveness of the vaccine. It is known to be more contagious.
“It’s normal for viruses to mutate, (and I) totally expected that,” said Scrase. “I’ve seen dozens of different strains since the beginning of the pandemic and just too early to say whether there’s a threat to the folks of New Mexico.”
The DOH reported that the New Mexico man is recovering from “a very mild illness,” and did not require hospitalization.
“We’re doing surveillance testing on positive tests, 200 a week, to do the genomic sequencing to identify new strains,” Scrase said.