AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As 2022 draws to a close, MyHighPlains.com is taking a look back at what we consider the top stories of the past year, including significant stories regarding politics, local education and health.
Here are four health-centered stories that stood out from MyHighPlains.com in 2022.
Late 2022 Tripledemic
As 2022 neared its end, hospitals throughout the Texas Panhandle, along with around the state, saw an increase in patients due to the increase of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, the flu and RSV.
During a late November news conference, medical professionals from the Amarillo area spoke about how the respiratory viruses were putting pressure on each of the hospitals’ emergency capacity, hospital bed capacity and staffing resources.
Todd Bell, the city of Amarillo’s public health authority, said at the time that the strain on the local healthcare system is not helped by individuals with mild or moderate disease that seek care at emergency rooms. Bell encouraged individuals without severe respiratory symptoms to call their primary care doctor or go to an urgent care facility.
“We need to make sure that we have open access for those folks with severe illness, that they’re able to get in and see their physician in those emergency settings in a rapid manner,” Bell said.
According to figures from the city of Amarillo’s Public Health Department, officials reported 8,976 flu-related cases in Potter and Randall counties from the week ending with Nov. 21 through Dec. 26.
Not only did this increase in respiratory illness occur in the Texas Panhandle, but throughout the country. In late November, the United States saw a spike in COVID-19 cases, along with the rapid rise of flu. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the time they believed as many as 14 million had gotten the flu.
This increase in respiratory illness caused CDC officials to urge the public to wear face coverings indoors. Officials said in early December staying home when individuals are sick, masking and avoiding large gatherings brought the level of respiratory virus transmission down.
COVID-19 2022 year in review
In 2022, the city of Amarillo’s public health department continued to report COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries.
According to numbers published on Dec. 29, the counties reported a total of 85,759 COVID-19 cases in Potter and Randall counties, with 1,318 COVID-19-related deaths and 82,763 COVID-19 recoveries.
Members of the community can continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Amarillo Public Health Department, located at 850 Martin Rd. Public Health also continues to host mobile vaccination clinics throughout the city and also has provided a list of other locations offering free COVID-19 vaccines. For more information, visit the Amarillo Alerts website.
New Mexico legalizes recreational marijuana
Dispensaries in New Mexico were able to begin selling recreational cannabis on April 1, coming after the state passed the Cannabis Regulation Act in June 2021.
A number of dispensaries, including two in Clovis, opened their doors to customers on April 1. Officials from the office of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at the time that 250 retailers were ready to go on the first day of recreational sales.
According to Gov. Lujan Grisham’s office, the industry is expected to create as many as 11,000 new jobs across the state over several years, and generate more than $300 million in sales and more than $50 million in revenue in the first year.
In November, officials said that recreational sales of cannabis passed $25 million in October, according to reports from KRQE. More than 500 dispensaries sold more than $25 million worth of recreational cannabis in October.
In early December, the New Mexico Department of Health’s medical cannabis program announced that anxiety disorders will be added to the list of qualifying conditions for enrollment starting next year. According to previous reports, officials said this gives patients the opportunity to discuss with their medical provider how cannabis can be used to “alleviate the symptoms” of an anxiety disorder, even though individuals can access cannabis without a medical cannabis card.
Officials from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety continued to remind individuals that while recreational cannabis is now legal in the state, it continues to be illegal to drive a vehicle under the influence of cannabis.
Mind Matters: Mental Health Resources
In November, KAMR Local 4 News Anchor and Executive Producer Jackie Kingston, along with the KAMR Local 4 News team, investigated mental health resources throughout the Texas Panhandle in the “Mind Matters: Mental Health Resources” special program.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the special examines how counselors, social workers, volunteers and elected officials are working in the Texas Panhandle to implement solutions to meet mental health needs throughout the region. This comes as awareness for mental health needs increases and the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health treatment decreases.