Hospitals relax visitor restrictions as the number of cases declines

Ryan Boetel, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
·3 min read

Feb. 23—With a decline in COVID-19 cases throughout the state, Albuquerque-area hospitals have announced that they are relaxing restrictions on visitors, which have been in place through much of the pandemic.

Top physicians at the University of New Mexico, Presbyterian, Lovelace and Christus St. Vincent health systems all said in a teleconference Monday that their hospitals were changing policies surrounding visitors to their facilities.

Patients with COVID, or those suspected of having COVID, still cannot have visitors for the most part. But most other patients will be allowed a visitor or support person, though they will still be subject to safety measures.

"All of our facilities have been working together to allow increased visitation for those patients who are hospitalized with other types of disease processes," said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer at Lovelace. "That's been a very positive (move) that we've taken this week."

The state reported 237 new COVID cases on Monday. For the past week, the state has averaged about 323 new cases per day.

The state reported 11 additional COVID-related deaths: eight women and three men, ranging in age from their 50s to 90s.

There were 247 people hospitalized with COVID throughout the state.

Of those, 65 patients were at Presbyterian facilitites, a number low enough that the health system felt it could welcome more visitors, said Dr. Denise Gonzales, medical director of Presbyterian Healthcare Services.

"This is the lowest number of hospitalizations that we've experienced since mid-October 2020," Gonzales said. "With the declining cases, we evaluated our visitor policy."

At Presbyterian, for example, patients in the emergency department and those having outpatient surgery can now have one support person present. Pediatrics, and labor and delivery were increased to two visitors per patient, according to the hospital's website.

"This is a very positive thing that all the health systems are doing," said Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which expanded visiting hours this week. Allowing visitors "really helps the staffs not feel so isolated."

Dr. Rohini McKee, University of New Mexico Hospital chief quality and safety officer, said most UNM patients will now be able to have one visitor.

But she cautioned against people letting their guard down, despite the recent decline in cases, noting that daily cases are higher than they were last spring and summer.

Of the new cases reported Monday, 79 were in Bernalillo County.

"This is not the time to take your foot off the gas," she said. "We are not out of the woods yet ... Hang in there for a little while longer."

The decline in cases comes as the state continues to vaccinate certain groups against COVID-19.

A state vaccine dashboard shows that more than 500,000 shots have been administered. About 329,000 people have had one shot and 172,000 people have had both. Frontline health care workers, folks 75 years and older, and other people with certain medical conditions have so far been given priority.

Gonzales said Presbyterian is hopeful that, starting some time next week, the health system could begin offering a large vaccination clinic. But she said such a clinic is entirely dependent on supplies.

"We know how frustrating it is to wait while supply catches up to demand," she said.