As New Mexico braces for a new wave of COVID cases, healthcare facilities across our state are overloaded to a breaking point. At the University of New Mexico Hospital, where I see patients, our intensive care unit was over 130% capacity (the week ending December 19) and other hospitals in Albuquerque are facing similar challenges. Another spike will only exacerbate this situation, and we must tap into all of our available resources to protect our communities.
Any comprehensive strategy must take into account the unique risk of exposure and infection with COVID-19 in our state’s prisons and prisons.
Prisons and prisons have been the sites of the biggest epidemics of the pandemic. These epidemics rarely remain behind bars as correctional officers and incarcerated people return to their families and communities. This is especially true for infections that occur in prisons, where the average length of stay for people in prison is a few days to a few weeks. For example, researchers estimated that individuals passing through a large prison – the Cook County Jail – accounted for nearly 16% of all documented COVID cases in Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois.
New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the United States as a whole, and infection control strategies such as mass quarantines will not be enough to prevent a further increase in cases. At the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, we’ve already seen cases increase throughout the pandemic. It is in the best interests of those behind bars, correctional officers and their communities to provide easy access to proven treatments for COVID. One option is monoclonal antibodies.
Monoclonal antibodies are conditioned and ready to provide rapid defense against COVID. They should be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis of symptomatic illness as well as to people who have been in close contact with a COVID patient. When used in this way, research has shown that they can prevent serious illness and hospitalization.
People in prison often suffer from chronic illnesses which we know are associated with poor outcomes from COVID. Yet to date, most US counties, including Bernalillo County, have not provided easy access to monoclonal antibodies in prison. Officials should change that and create a program that allows mass treatment of those eligible for the MDC. This can prevent the spread of COVID in the MDC, which in turn will have a positive impact on the entire Albuquerque community, including avoiding stress on the overburdened healthcare system and saving money for them. health care.
To do so, officials in Bernalillo County and the MDC will need to act quickly. Staff, providers and nurses should be informed and trained on the deployment of this treatment and work to identify all eligible people – including staff – who wish to receive the antibodies. This treatment strategy must go hand in hand with continued prevention efforts to provide COVID vaccines and boosters.
With high rates of COVID already present at the MDC, the prison could see a wider spread and act as a source of infection when people are released into their families and communities this winter. If these incarcerated people, staff and their families become seriously ill with COVID, they will arrive at already affected hospitals in Albuquerque. Bernalillo County can and should prevent this scenario by immediately making monoclonal antibodies available to the MDC.