Nurses in the emergency department of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital don personal protective equipment before entering a patient’s room suspected of having coronavirus April 8, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
The top pandemic advisors to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will meet to help set the path forward for how hospitals and health care settings will proceed with pandemic precautions when the public health emergency ends Friday.
Three of the four major hospital systems in the state indicated this week they are expecting some kind of change after tomorrow’s meeting of the governor’s Medical Advisory Team (MAT), an advisory group set up by the Department of Health in March 2020 as part of New Mexico’s response to the COVID pandemic.
The MAT will meet virtually at 8 a.m. on Friday, DOH spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter said.
The gatherings are not public, and there is not an agenda for Friday’s meeting.
McGinnis Porter provided a list of 22 MAT members who have been invited to the meeting, including people from the UNM Health Sciences Center, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Lovelace Medical Center, Tri Core Reference Laboratories, the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department, and DOH.
The MAT was described by the Santa Fe New Mexican in April 2020 as “a group of more than 100 officials and experts set up by the New Mexico Department of Health to stretch the capacity of the state’s health care system as far as it can go during the COVID-19 crisis.”
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While we await details about what will come from the meeting or what will happen after the emergency health order expires, representatives from the University of New Mexico Hospital and CHRISTUS Health said there are ongoing discussions about keeping mask requirements in health care settings.
For now, St. Vincent Regional Medical Center plans to keep masking, Arturo Delgado, a spokesperson for CHRISTUS Health wrote, because Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show Santa Fe County was one of 15 New Mexico counties on Wednesday with high transmission.
The CDC in fall 2022 loosened its masking requirements for health care facilities and said those hospitals and other providers in local areas where transmission is not high can “choose not to require” all doctors, patients, and visitors to mask.
“When the state public health emergency ends, health care facilities will continue to abide by federal requirements,” McGinnis Porter said.
McGinnis Porter pointed to the current public health order, saying it “aligned all COVID-related requirements to those facilities licensed or certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”
The UNM Health System also plans to keep its masking requirement in place after Friday, Ramirez said. Masking will still be mandatory in any “clinical settings” or patient-facing areas, he said, like all parts of UNM hospitals, outpatient clinics, laboratories and lobby areas.
UNM’s mask requirement does not include classrooms, outdoor common areas, or private work offices outside of hospitals or outpatient clinics, he said.
The current mask requirement for all visitors at Presbyterian Healthcare Services remains in place for now, said spokesperson Amanda Schoenberg.
“We will provide updates if the policy changes,” she said.
As of press time on Wednesday, the New Mexico Hospital Association had not responded to two emails seeking comment.
Reached for comment on Monday, Lovelace Health System spokesperson Whitney Marquez said she was “still waiting to hear what will be decided.”
“The agreement was that all NM hospitals would move together,” Delgado wrote an email on Tuesday. “If anything changes, it would (be) after the MAT meeting.”
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Health policy experts have warned hospitals without mask requirements put their patients at risk.
Marquel Musgrave (Nambé), COVID technical assistance specialist at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said they would like the members of the MAT to consider who is the most impacted by COVID right now, and the weight that their decisions carry for the health of all New Mexicans who seek care.
Health care settings are where one is most likely to encounter someone who has COVID or another airborne virus that is easily transmitted, and where people the most vulnerable to COVID are likely to go, said Janeth Nuñez del Prado, leader of the New Mexico chapter of Marked by COVID, the largest network of COVID survivors in the country.
“Out of all the places where we should keep masking, clearly health care should be the last holdout, from now until it’s safer,” she said.
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