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New Mexico hospital officials raise red flags due to omicron surge

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NM hospital officials call Omicron's impact extreme on emergency rooms.

Hospital officials warned Monday that the omicron variant of COVID-19 has devastated emergency room capacity in the state’s hospitals. With more than half of New Mexico’s hospital emergency rooms dedicated to COVID-19 patients, Dr. Steve McLaughlin, Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico, painted a stark picture.

"Hospitals are so full that care in the emergency department may be taking place in an alternative space, such as a hallway, a waiting room or in a chair," said McLaughlin.

University of New Mexico Hospital has been operating above 130% capacity for months and Presbyterian Healthcare Services faces similar pressure. Chief Medical Officer, Jason Mitchell, said people should avoid the ER unless absolutely necessary.

"If you come to our emergency rooms and don't have a severe illness, you're going to wait a long time and we hate that," said Mitchell.

McLaughlin said the University Hospital’s emergency room cannot do COVID19 testing on those with mild or no symptoms. Officials directed New Mexicans to primary care, pharmacies, and the New Mexico Department of Health website to find tests. They urged New Mexicans to get vaccinated and get their booster shots.

McLaughlin also called on the public to follow proper mask protocols.

"Because omicron is so contagious, the cloth masks that were previously not too bad, are really not very effective.  You really need to up the game."

That means an N95 mask at best and surgical masks at least.

Jered Ebenreck has been involved in community radio for 30 years--from college radio in Maryland to KGNU, Boulder to WOMR, Provincetown to KUNM in 2004. Having served in a volunteer capacity for 17 years, Jered joined the KUNM Newsroom to offer Public Health reporting and analysis while pursuing a graduate program in Public Health at UNM, with an emphasis on Social Ecology. Jered, with the help of his partner, is a caregiver for his mother. Jered can be contacted via jeredebenreck@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeredEbenreck