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Navy medical team heading to San Juan Regional to help with COVID-19

A drive-thru assessment center for possible COVID-19 testing has been set up at San Juan Regional Medical Center for people experiencing mild flu- and cold-like symptoms in April. The U.S. Navy is sending a 20-member medical team to Farmington to help San Juan Regional Medical Center cope with a staff shortage for treating COVID-19 patients. (Durango Herald file)

SANTA FE – The U.S. Navy is sending a 20-member medical team to New Mexico to help the San Juan Regional Medical Center cope with a staff shortage for treating COVID-19 patients.

The military team is being deployed at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is scheduled to arrive at the Farmington hospital Sunday.

New Mexico is one of seven states where military teams are deployed or soon will, according to a statement issued Monday by U.S. Army North.

“As COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to shift across the country, decreasing in certain areas while increasing in others, we unfortunately find new communities and health care facilities overburdened and in need of federal, military assistance,” said Army Lt. Gen. John R. Evans Jr.

Dr. Nicole Wieman, an Army North spokeswoman, said military teams were deployed to Gallup and Shiprock in New Mexico earlier during the pandemic, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The teams focus on coronavirus cases, Wieman said.

“They are there to decompress the burden of treating COVID patients,” she said.

New Mexico on Monday reported an additional 4,991 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 45 more virus deaths for a five-day period that included the Thanksgiving holiday. That increased the state’s pandemic total to 313,139 cases and 5,355 deaths.

Health officials said the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive remains just over 12%, above the state’s target but less than it was two weeks ago.

Officials with two of New Mexico’s largest hospitals said during a briefing Monday that they continue to operate above capacity. At Presbyterian Healthcare Services, about 28% of patients are being treated for coronavirus infections.

Hundreds of traveling nurses are working at both Presbyterian and University of New Mexico Hospital to help meet demands, the officials said.

State officials and health care experts have acknowledged the pandemic has exacerbated a long-term problem in New Mexico, where hospital capacity has historically been stretched thin because of its low number of beds per capita.