As the New Mexico death toll from COVID-19 reached seven Thursday, the state reported a limited supply of medical equipment meant to keep frontline health workers safe during an anticipated surge in cases.According to the New Mexico Human Services Department, the state has a stockpile of 43,873 N95 face masks used to protect medical workers from contracting the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Unlike surgical masks, N95s filter air particles that could contain the virus.
Also at their disposal are 233,608 less-protective surgical masks, 70,497 isolation gowns and 2.4 million medical exam gloves, according to data provided by the department Thursday.
Throughout the nation, medical workers are facing severe shortages of personal protective equipment. But the numbers released Thursday show just how much protective gear the state currently has to keep doctors, nurses and hospital staff safe as they treat patients who have contracted COVID-19.
"My administration is aggressively pursuing PPE wherever we can, including from both the federal government & through private orders," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a tweet on Thursday. "I will do whatever it takes to keep New Mexico's health care workers safe and protected as they respond to this public health emergency."
New Mexico already has received about 75 percent of its allotment of personal protective equipment, known as PPE, from the national stockpile and is awaiting another shipment of medical gear from the federal government, the governor said.
The disclosure came as the Governor's Office reported Thursday that 40 additional people in the state had tested positive for COVID-19 and another person had died. The latest numbers brought the total to 403 cases in New Mexico, including 15 new cases in Bernalillo County but no known new cases in Santa Fe.
As of Thursday, Santa Fe County had 48 reported cases.
A Bernalillo County woman in her 70s had been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 and had multiple underlying medical conditions before she died Wednesday, according to the Governor's Office, which is not disclosing the names of those who contract the illness.
As of Thursday, 34 people had been hospitalized for COVID-19 and 31 people had recovered from the virus.
While the virus continues to spread, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and the governor have said they are aggressively pushing for more medical equipment as the state braces for a potential surge of between 250,000 and 1.25 million cases of the disease, health officials warned.
A spokeswoman for the Human Services Department, Jodi McGinnis Porter, said the state has placed "dozens of orders" for more PPEs and is placing "more every day."
Heinrich said during a teleconference Thursday that he's still pressing the Trump administration for the state's allotment of medical equipment and has heard of small businesses mobilizing to manufacture protective face shields with 3D printers to fill in some of the gaps. He said there may be a similar manufacturing effort to build N95 face masks.
"We have an all-hands-on-deck effort to do anything we can ... because we know there are going to be real shortages from the national stockpile," Heinrich told reporters. "I don't know that we'll get ventilators. I don't know that we'll get many of the things that we were hoping for from the national stockpile.
"There are simply not enough ventilators, in my view, in the stockpile to make me sleep well at night when our surge hits, because all of those large metropolitan areas that are in the middle of their surge now will still be needing them when the surge hits New Mexico," Heinrich said.
In the meantime, public health experts have told The New Mexican that hospitals have enough medical supplies to protect staff and offer lifesaving intensive care units and ventilators to patients who need it - for now.
But the number of people in New Mexico who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 is nowhere near the apex of cases anticipated in the weeks to come.
Based on modeling of current trends, state health officials estimate that between 2,175 and 3,000 intensive care unit beds may be needed. New Mexico currently has 365.
Officials also estimate the number of available hospital beds may need to increase to 3,498 from 2,500, and the number of ventilators to 630 from 471.
In an effort to slow the spread, the governor is still advising New Mexico residents to stay at home except for essential travel, such as a medical appointment or trip to the grocery store or pharmacy. All businesses not deemed "essential" by the Governor's Office have been ordered to close during the public health emergency.
Lujan Grisham said Thursday she also would extend the stay-at-home instruction beyond April 10.
During the same Twitter question-and-answer session, the governor also for the first time advised New Mexico residents to wear face masks in public, although her office is not requiring residents do so.
Medical masks designed for doctors and nurses should still not be used by the general public so they can be saved for medical staff, she said.
"Our guidance: If you want to wear masks in public, it may help mitigate the risk of spreading and contracting germs," Lujan Grisham said. "Wearing a face covering is no guarantee, but it can help and you are encouraged to do so. The most important thing? Stay home. Save lives."
This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of the Taos News.
In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.