Rio Rancho Fire Rescue Lt. Elliott Guinn got vaccinated last week by Capt. David Hoeksema.
Courtesy photo

Frontline healthcare workers are full of hope with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination being administered less than two weeks ago.

Over 8,000 frontline healthcare workers have been vaccinated between Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Lovelace Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital and the University of New Mexico Hospital, according to experts from each hospital. They also reported, no employees have declined to take the vaccine.

In a press conference on Monday, Lovelace Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval was joined by three of her colleagues to update the press on COVID-19 efforts.

“Every one of them you talk to, they feel a huge sense of relief; they feel this added layer of protection and it is giving them a literal shot in the arm to help through this really difficult period of time,” she said.

Sandoval reported about 75 percent of Lovelace employees have been vaccinated.

She plans to have their first round of vaccinations complete in less than three weeks. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses; the second is administered after about 21 days.

“I have to say it has been a week of a lot of excitement, a lot of hard work, people have been receiving the vaccine and it has gone very smoothly. We haven’t had any reactions,” she said.

Sandoval stressed that people still need to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands frequently.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales reported over 2,800 Presbyterian employees have been vaccinated at more than 10 vaccination sites statewide. There are about 10,000 healthcare workers in the hospital’s workforce that come in contact with COVID-positive patients that would need to be vaccinated, she said.

“While a safe and effective vaccine does represent our best hope in moving beyond what we have experienced during this COVID-19 pandemic, it does not mean that our behavior regarding precautions should change right away,” Gonzales said.

Presbyterian reached triple the amount of COVID-hospitalizations than they were in May. She said it is imperative for the community to continue COVID-safe practices for the sake of hospitals.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there have been over 8,800 cumulative hospitalizations, as of press time, with over 800 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

University of New Mexico Hospital Chief Quality and Safety Officer Dr. Rohini McKee reported about 3,500 of UNM employees have been vaccinated so far, including herself.

UNM required employees to stay for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine for observation, 30 minutes for those with a history of adverse reactions to vaccinations.

McKee reported no employees have displayed an adverse reaction to the vaccine. McKee received the shot Dec. 18 and 24 hours later experienced mild symptoms of aches and chills — short-lived and treated with a single dose of Ibuprofen.

“I think people should know that, and people should expect that. But it really was a painless and very smooth process at UNM,” she said, saddened by the record number of deaths, expected to reach 3,000  soon.

“We want to remind everyone, that we can still turn this around,” McKee said.

She also added, the new COVID variant in the U.K., B.1.1.7, is not as “new” as people might believe.

“What we know about that particular strain is that it was discovered in September, it is not all that new. But what is alarming is that it is responsible for a high percentage of cases in London and southeast England, so I think the notion that it has not spread beyond that, is probably incorrect given how much people travel,” she said. This is why strong quarantine practices should take place when people travel.”

There is no evidence as of yet to support if that variant is more deadly than any other variants of COVID, she said. “Whatever preliminary information we have would suggest that the vaccines are effective against that strain, but just as a word of caution, that is preliminary information and we will wait to learn more.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted that the Moderna vaccine began arriving Dec. 22 and will be administered to long-term care facility residents and staff.

New Mexico’s second Pfizer shipment arrived and will continue to go to health care workers, with about 31,600 doses expected, said Lujan Grisham spokesman Matt Nerzig Monday.

The NMDOH announced residents can receive notice of when they qualify for a COVID-19 vaccination by registering on cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/.

Test at home OK’d

New Mexicans may now order free, at-home, self-administered COVID-19 saliva tests, with accurate laboratory-confirmed results returned within 24-48 hours of receipt of the sample.

The free tests are available to New Mexico residents regardless of exposure risk– whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, and whether they have come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive individual or not.

Any New Mexican with access to online video-conferencing through Zoom can receive a test at home, self-administer the test with a virtual testing supervisor through a secure Zoom, and mail the sample back for laboratory processing, all free of charge.

The breakthrough in testing convenience for New Mexicans is a result of a public-private partnership between the state and Vault Health.

To order a test, and for more information, visit learn.vaulthealth.com/nm/.

COVID numbers

As of press time, there have been 133,200 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, with Sandoval County having over 7,570 total cases, according to state health officials Dec. 23.

Over 800 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, excluding New Mexicans who may have been transferred to a hospital out of state; there are about 58,000 people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Travel restrictions

As per the governor’s public-health orders, people traveling to New Mexico from high-risk states are required to quarantine for 14 days or for the duration of their presence in the state, whichever is shorter.

High-risk states are states with a five percent positivity rate or greater over a seven-day rolling average. This also includes a positive test rate greater than 80 per 1 million residents, according to the NMDOH.

People arriving from lower-risk states are not required to self-quarantine.

Staff writer at Rio Rancho Observer