SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health has issued a public health emergency order in response to a surge of pediatric cases and hospitalizations of respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. The order requires all New Mexico hospitals to work cooperatively to reactivate and participate in a “hub and spoke” model of resource management to ensure patients are transferred to appropriate levels of care.

“We expand our social networks during the holidays, which is an important part of nurturing ourselves as human beings living in a complex world. However, at the same time we create more opportunities for respiratory viruses to spread,” said Acting Department of Health Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D. “It’s important to take steps to reduce the risk for respiratory viruses by practicing the good health and hygiene habits we’ve learned over the past few years as New Mexico nurses, doctors and hospital staff are facing another surge.”

This public health emergency order is necessary now as hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their licensed capacity due to a surge in respiratory viruses and are now experiencing an unsustainable strain on healthcare providers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States is experiencing an early, elevated onset of respiratory disease incidence, as the result of RSV, influenza, COVID-19, and other respiratory viruses. Respiratory disease caused by RSV and other viruses is placing severe strain on pediatric hospital capacity in New Mexico, and evaluations show that the state is nearing a level of capacity strain that would necessitate activating crisis standards of care.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that spreads through virus-containing respiratory droplets produced from coughing and sneezing. For most children, RSV produces mild illness. However, young children are especially susceptible to RSV – according to the CDC, RSV can be dangerous for some infants and young children, with children under the age of two are at increased risk of severe disease and hospitalization. Each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection.  Learn more about how young children and infants are impacted by RSV here.

New Mexico saw a significant increase in RSV cases during the months of October and November 2022, in addition to an increase in cases associated with COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory illnesses.  According to the CDC weekly Influenza Surveillance Report prepared by their Influenza Division New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee are seeing the highest rates of in Influenza in the country.

“In light of the increasing numbers of children being hospitalized with RSV, and the number of children presenting to the Emergency Departments statewide, it is really important at this time to take these precautions recommended by the New Mexico Department of Health, especially not exposing our children to others that are currently experiencing respiratory symptoms.” said David Gonzales, MD and Chief Medical Officer at CHRISTUS St. Vincent.

“As health care providers in New Mexico, we will continue to work closely to support children across the state who need care at this challenging time,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical and clinical transformation officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “We encourage families to prevent the spread of RSV and other respiratory illnesses and to seek care if it is needed.”

State health experts encourage all individuals at increased risk of severe disease (and their caregivers) to take steps to prevent RSV and other respiratory infections this flu season.

Stay up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.
Stay home if you or your child is sick.
Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
Keep common, high touch surface areas clean and regularly disinfected.
If you have a child needing medical evaluation, call your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center. At this time, hospital emergency departments are strained. Only visit the hospital if your child shows signs of severe illness, such as significant trouble breathing.

A copy of the Dec. 1, 2022 public health emergency order is available here.