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CORONAVIRUS IN LAS CRUCES

Hospitals, long-time local physician: Las Cruces is dealing well with COVID-19; following social distancing, other recommendations is vital

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“We need to quit being in a panic,” long-time Las Cruces physician William T. Baker, DO, said March 31 about COVID-19. “I think we’re prepared as you can be. We just need to hunker down and get through this thing,” said Baker, of MountainView Medical Group Family Care at Solano, 2020 S. Solano Drive. He is a founding member of the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine board of trustees and has practiced medicine in Las Cruces since 1980. His father, Lory Baker, began a local practice in 1950.

Memorial Medical Center (MMC) CEO John Harris and top MMC administrators also said the city is in a good position to deal with a local spike in the number of local residents with positive results in COVID-19 testing if it occurs.

As of Tuesday, March 31, the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has reported that New Mexico has 281 positive COVID-19 test results out of 13,240 tests administered statewide. That includes 17 positive results in Doña Ana County. There have been five deaths related to COVID-19, NMDOH said, including four in Bernalillo County and one in Eddy County.

Mountainview Regional Medical Center (MRMC) is carefully monitoring its resources, particularly supplies and personnel, Director of Business Development and Marketing Ben Woods said in a March 31 email, the hospital’s and “has adequate supplies to care for the patients at this time.”

The same is true for MMC, that hospital’s infection preventionist, Twyla Anderson, said during the Las Cruces City Council’s March 30 teleconference. “We do have an adequate number of tests,” she said.

“We have been preparing for the last three weeks for a surge,” Anderson said. MMC is monitoring daily the personal protective equipment (PPE) it has on hand and how much its staff uses, she said. “At this time (March 30), we’re actually doing quite well,” she said.

City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County Emergency Manager Cullen Combs, speaking during the March 30 teleconference, said the city-county Office of Emergency Management is in daily contact with NMDOH to help provide PPE “to the first-responding community” and is tracking the number and availability of test kits in Las Cruces.

Anderson said MMC has 199 beds at the hospital, plus alternative care sites if needed. As of March 30, she said there were no COVID-19 patients hospitalized at MMC.

Woods said MRMC has 168 licensed beds and had no COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of March 31. “The number, and types, of beds available at any time varies based upon the daily census,” Woods said, adding that MRMC continues “to address other significant health issues for patients in our community.”

Both Baker and Anderson said COVID-19 is spread by droplets and that social distancing, avoiding groups and frequent hand washing are the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

Avoiding groups is vital, Harris said, because it will help control the spread of the virus “much more readily.” An important way to do that, Anderson said, is for families to send only one person to buy groceries.

Avoiding groups “is important (even if you do) not have signs and symptoms,” said MMC Chief Nursing Officer Caryn Iverson. Some people who don’t have any symptoms of the virus could still have it and give it to someone else, she said.

Anderson and Baker both said carefully cleaning surfaces is another important way to fight the virus.

“This virus has a fat layer around it,” Baker said. “Soap and hot water break down that fat layer and that’s what kills that virus.” Baker said hand sanitizer, especially if its alcohol content is 70 percent or greater, also destroys the virus.

“We cannot stress enough how important it is to practice social distancing, thorough hand-washing and cough/sneeze hygiene: wash your hands, cover your cough/sneeze, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, frequently clean and disinfect touched objects and surfaces and stay home to the fullest extent possible,” Woods said.

In 40 years of medical practice, Baker said he has never experienced anything quite like COVID-19. “I did live through the polio epidemic as a little kid,” he said, remembering being in line at the old Alameda Junior High School to get a sugar cube with polio vaccine, and getting a small-pox vaccination.

COVID-19 has created “a tremendous amount of fear in the populous,” Baker said. “This is a highly contagious virus, very fatal in some groups.” But, he said, total cases of the virus (it’s not influenza, but a pulmonary infectious disease) and total deaths worldwide because of the virus are less than last year’s influenza totals.

“This is a novel situation, this is unprecedented,” Harris said. “We are working through this. We’re learning where the weaknesses are in the continuum of care.”

Woods said MRMC is “utilizing every available avenue for testing. “If a physician determines a patient with symptoms meets the risk criteria, they will coordinate testing and the patient’s ultimate disposition, consulting with NMDOH as necessary. Our staff obtains the appropriate specimens and they are sent to the appropriate lab for testing. There remains a several-day-timespan between sampling and the return of testing results despite the best efforts of all due to the sheer numbers of tests being made across the United States at this time. We are in close coordination with both NMDOH and our private labs working to facilitate a more responsive turnaround of test results for our patients,” Woods said.

Anderson said major criteria for determining if someone should receive a test for COVID-19 continues to be the classic symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, cough and fatigue, along with that person’s recent travel and his or her personal contacts.

Iverson said people are coming to MMC “who don’t need to be tested.” The hospital is focusing on “testing people with respiratory issues,” she said.

For more information, including daily COVID-19 updates, visit www.cv.nmhealth.org. The NMDOH COVID-19 hotline number is 1-855-600-3453.

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