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Virus hits young and old alike across NM

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – It started with a few older adults – all with a travel history well beyond New Mexico.

But the coronavirus outbreak ripping through the state is now hitting people of all ages and reaching communities far from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

The rapid growth and demographic spread aren’t surprising, public health officials said Tuesday. They also underscore the importance of New Mexicans adhering to the state’s instruction to stay at home, officials said, which could prevent thousands of infections.

Over the past two weeks, those infected have included a 9-year-old boy in McKinley County and two 20-somethings in Chaves County. An infant and four teenage girls have also tested positive.

About 42% of the people who have tested positive – and for whom ages are available – are 39 years old or younger, according to data released by the state and analyzed by the Journal. Fifty-six percent are younger than 49.

To be sure, older adults are most at risk of complications from the disease, which can cause a fever and breathing problems. And for many people, the symptoms are mild or moderate.

But as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pointed out this week, New Mexico is seeing more cases among young people.

“We’re beginning to see that this virus is vicious and can attack any number of individuals,” she said in a televised briefing Monday. “We know that young people, just because of their age, are not protected from some of the ill effects of COVID-19.”

State officials said it isn’t surprising to see younger New Mexicans test positive.

Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department, said the numbers in New Mexico are consistent with what’s happened elsewhere. The state’s aggressive testing program may be picking up a few more young people than elsewhere, but only because in other locations, the younger folks – with milder symptoms – might not be tested at all.

“To me,” he said Tuesday, “there’s no surprises at all. I think this is actually as expected.”

The geographic distribution of cases isn’t unusual either, Scrase said. The initial location of positive tests generally matched the major airports in the state, he said, reflecting travel-related infections.

Afterward, the infections tended to be people in close contact with the travelers. And now, travel within the state is likely spreading the disease.

The first few cases emerged in Socorro, Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties.

But they now range from San Juan County in the Four Corners areas to Lea County in the Permian Basin – opposite corners of the state. The growth, of course, also coincides with the expanded availability of testing.

As of Tuesday, New Mexico had 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Seventeen new cases were announced Tuesday, including the first infections in Cibola and Curry counties.

Thirteen of the state’s 33 counties now have at least one person who has tested positive.

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