Patients having to share ventilators.
Doctors working in MASH-type tents in hospital parking lots.
Retired health care workers being called in to help care for a growing number of sick and dying patients.
On a day when New Mexico reported a single-day record of 1,082 new cases of the novel coronavirus, public health officials painted a grim picture of what will happen if infections continue to rise over the next several weeks.
The state is seeing an uptick in confirmed cases in every region and a sharp increase in infections across every age group. Its seven-day rolling average is 791 — up from 599 a week ago and well above the target of 168.
“The velocity of that spike is like nothing else we’ve seen during this pandemic. This is a serious call to action for us,” Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said Thursday during a virtual news conference hosted by state Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase.
Just a little over a month ago, the virus was in decline. Now, the growth rate is 4.5 percent to 6 percent per day.
“That is a significant amount of growth,” Mitchell said. “When you think about that … doubling two people is one thing. Doubling 900 infections is a whole different thing. All of a sudden the math really becomes a problem.”
Even if the growth rate comes down, more people have been infected.
“So if the rate of transmission is still above zero, you’re still adding cases on top of a large number of existing cases,” Mitchell said.
The number of confirmed infections statewide increased Thursday to 44,904. In all, 994 people in New Mexico have died of COVID-19, including three new deaths reported in Bernalillo, Grant and Sandoval counties.
In Santa Fe, an outbreak at Kingston Residence, an assisted living facility off Rodeo Road, grew larger, with another staff member and six more residents having tested positive for the virus. Overall, 28 Kingston residents and 20 staffers have contracted the virus and three residents have died, according to the state Department of Health.
As of Thursday, 323 people in New Mexico were hospitalized for COVID-19. The state reported 80 percent of its general hospital beds and 75 percent of its intensive care beds were filled. People age 65 or older were driving the surge in hospitalizations, Scrase said.
If the transmission rate remains at the present level, the state’s hospitals soon will be inundated with COVID-19 patients, Mitchell said.
New Mexico can handle up to 290 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but it can increase that number to 439 through a contingency plan.
“When we get in this range, above 290, we have to start closing care down. We have to stop doing elective surgeries as a community. We have to delay other health care needs. … So this is not a place where we want to be as a hospital system. But it is a place where we can still provide that care,” Mitchell said.
The state could provide 623 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients if the need arose.
But it “puts us at a crisis of care standard,” Mitchell said. “This is a place where nobody wants to be.
“When we go crisis of care, it means we may have to share equipment like ventilators. It may mean people are in tents outside in the parking lot in hospital-type MASH units. It may mean that health care providers who have not practiced in a hospital for many years … may have to come in and relearn how to run ventilators and take care of patients. It is a time when if you have other health care needs like the birth of a child, a car accident or any other emergency, you may not have a place to go.”
If the growth rate stayed where it is now, the state’s hospitals would go into crisis mode by mid-November.
“And by December, we would have so many cases that we would be at that point where we would be in MASH tents,” Mitchell said.
But “we are not past the tipping point,” he said. “We actually have the ability to bring this curve back down.”
Mitchell and Scrase urged New Mexicans to modify their behaviors.
“Stay at home,” Scrase said. “Seriously, stay at home.”
If you have to go outside, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“It’s up to us to bend that [curve] back down,” Mitchell said.