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By MARSHALL G. BACA JR.
Special to the Daily Press

COVID infection rates have spiked across Southeast New Mexico and West Texas, and Artesia General Hospital has been hit hard by the wave.

We exceeded our inpatient capacity over the weekend because of the rise in cases. Other hospitals in the region have been similarly strained. Transferring patients requiring a higher level of care for both COVID and non-COVID-related illnesses (heart attacks, strokes, trauma, etc.) became tremendously difficult, and in some cases, we had to resort to transfers as far away as Phoenix, Ariz.

When COVID numbers in Eddy County started climbing, we reinstated multiple steps focused on patient safety. The overall goal in taking these measures is to minimize the risk of COVID exposure for our patients. That, in part, means minimizing foot traffic. For that reason, we’ve temporarily suspended normal patient visitation during this flare.

Vaccination rates in Eddy County are fourth-lowest in the state of New Mexico. That logically plays into why we’re seeing the surge of new cases. From our first-hand experience, the patients we’ve seen in this wave who have been the sickest with COVID have been people who are unvaccinated. This trend is also occurring across the nation in areas with low vaccination rates.

As healthcare providers, we want to partner with you to help you stay healthy and, where possible, mitigate your health risks. It isn’t our aim to scare people. We want people to know what we have witnessed.

COVID prevention practices are critical for mitigating the risk of contracting and spreading COVID so that we may eventually return to a sense of normalcy. These include: masking when out in public and while in school, social distancing, handwashing, and staying home when you are feeling unwell.

As healthcare workers, we have witnessed the devastation COVID can have on individuals, their families, and our community. We urge you to please consider getting vaccinated if you have yet to do so. It is the best tool we have to prevent potentially devastating illness from this disease. You can register for vaccination at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Marshall G. Baca Jr., DO, FACEP, FAAEM, is a member of the Artesia General Hospital staff and leader of the hospital’s COVID-19 task force.)