The “third wave” of COVID-19 has left New Mexico hospitals at maximum capacity as cases have grown at an exponential rate across the state.
As of Thursday morning, five refrigerated trailers or “mobile morgues” were parked and operating in one of the parking lots of the University of New Mexico Hospital. These trailers were recently moved back to a parking lot near Camino De Salud and University and have been in operation since March.
“As part of (UNMH’s influenza plan), the Office of the Medical Investigator has been provided with climate controlled storage options,” according to Mark Rudi, a UNM Health Sciences spokesperson. “These storage options have been utilized since the spring and are managed in a collaborative effort between OMI and the New Mexico Department of Health.”
The trailers are available for any overflow that the increase in COVID deaths may result in, but are not limited to holding the bodies of those who have died of complications from the coronavirus.
“The OMI handles death investigations for the entire state, and the storage is available for use as the office needs," Rudi said.
Mobile morgues have been seen in other metropolitan cities where the virus has not only overwhelmed the health system but also pushed those trying to house an overwhelming amount of dead bodies.
Similar trailers were distributed across the nation during the first wave of COVID-19, and now just eight months later these morgues have become prominent again. Earlier this month, El Paso asked for more as their deaths relating to COVID-19 spiked to almost 20 per day.
The amount of positive cases has also continued to grow in New Mexico at an alarming rate. New Mexico had a record 1,259 cases on Monday, and just three days later that number had nearly tripled as the state reported 3,675 new positive cases of COVID-19.
New Mexico is now averaging 1,907 positive cases of COVID-19 a day. The numbers were provided by the state during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s weekly COVID-19 reponse update on Thursday afternoon.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, 774 patients are currently in hospitals due to COVID-19, with 125 patients on ventilators. There were 12 more reported COVID-19 fatalities on Thursday, pushing the grim total to 1,302 deceased New Mexicans.
According to Lujan Grisham, New Mexico must slow the spread of the virus or will run the risk of further stressing its health care system.
With Thanksgiving next week, medical professionals are pleading with the community to be conscious and rethink their holiday traditions in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a joint press conference Monday with Lovelace, Presbyterian and UNM Hospital, Dr. Rohini McKee of UNMH provided a COVID-19 update and an appeal to the community.
“At UNM Health Sciences Center, we have seen high volumes of patients for several weeks now and continue to do so. Our health care workers are tired, we are beyond capacity, and while I understand — because all of us who work here are members of our community — how difficult it is to ask that you rethink your holiday traditions, it is absolutely essential that we pull together and think about how we can be safe over the holidays,” McKee said. “(This is) so that we can protect not just our families and the ones we love, but the most vulnerable in our community and our health care workers.”
Every major hospital in the Albuquerque area is urging New Mexicans to take actions to reduce the spread and lessen the load on frontline workers.
“We are at a point now where it is going to get much worse in New Mexico,” Dr. Jason Mitchell, a senior vice president at Presbyterian, said in a press conference last week. “The case rates are going up, we still have high positivity of tests and our hospitals are essentially full. And we know there’s a lot more to come.”
On Oct. 30, Lujan Grisham ordered state flags to fly at half-mast for a week to honor those who lost their lives to COVID-19 as New Mexico exceeded 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Nick Romero is a staff photographer at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nicromerophoto