- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Top medical officers for some of New Mexico’s largest hospital systems said Monday they are now at or above normal capacity as the coronavirus pandemic surges across the state.

In a briefing with reporters, they said they’re seeing the strain on staff and that the current pace of caring for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients and those hospitalized for other illnesses and trauma will be unsustainable over the long-term.

Presbyterian Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Mitchell said the state’s hospitals are operating under contingency plans that include bringing in health care workers from other states, redeploying staff from clinics and setting up inpatient units in areas where they normally wouldn’t be.

“We are now at the point where we are using every single lever that we have,” he said.

New Mexico reported another 1,418 confirmed infections Monday, smashing the previous record of 1,287 that was set Friday and Saturday. Hospitalizations and deaths also remain high. A Bernalillo County man in his 30s was among the 14 additional deaths reported Sunday.

“I know as this continues everyone will become exhausted,” Mitchell said. “This is not a marathon where you can see the end and you know it’s five more miles. This is a sprint and a sprint and a sprint and right now we don’t know where that end is going to be.”

He added: “The only way to stop the sprint and give us a rest is when as a community we come together and dramatically decrease the spread of COVID through our actions.”

Despite having some of the toughest public health restrictions since the pandemic started, New Mexico has been struggling with exponential increases over the past month. The seven-day rolling average for positivity stands at more than 9% and the total number of cases for the state is close to topping 56,300, with more than 14% of those being reported in just the last several days.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she will likely impose stricter mandates this week as health officials warned about the potential for increased spread with the holiday season approaching. Lujan Grisham and others have pleaded with people to abide by the state’s mask mandate and to stay home as much as possible and avoid social contact.

The governor complained last week that law enforcement could and should be cracking down on those who ignore the public health order.

Violations are subject to criminal and civil penalties, including but not limited to misdemeanor citations and fines of up to $5,000.

Officer Dusty Francisco said New Mexico State Police has issued 61 citations since the order went into effect.

A Las Cruces funeral home was fined Friday, the day after the state added funeral homes to the amended order to prevent gatherings. State police arrived at the Getz Funeral Home as it was hosting a service for a well-known businessman and rancher from southern New Mexico who died from complications from COVID-19.

Chad Getz, the funeral home’s general manager, told the Las Cruces Sun-News that the Health Department initially contacted the business by phone and disclosed that a complaint about the funeral had been made by an unnamed elected official. Getz said everyone at the service wore masks and social distancing was observed.

People also gathered over the weekend when it was announced that Democrat Joe Biden was the presumptive winner of the presidential election. Supporters of President Donald Trump lined a street in Santa Fe, where they waved flags in protest and chanted “Four more years” and “Stop the steal.” Biden supporters took to the streets of Albuquerque to honk, dance and cheer while some neighbors gathered at a Rio Rancho park to celebrate.

The hospital officials urged people to avoid gatherings and to think twice about hosting holiday events.

“Please, please, please understand this is not the time to get together in large groups,” said University of New Mexico Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher. “As distressing as that may be for many families and others, it’s absolutely essential if we’re going to all get through this in the next couple of weeks and months.”

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