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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico eclipsed the 1,000 mark Friday, just one month after state officials reported the first positive test results.
A total of 106 additional confirmed cases brought the state’s total number of cases to 1,091 – an 11% increase over the previous day.
Top state health officials also announced two additional deaths due to COVID-19, bringing the state’s death tally to 19.
The two deaths – one in Bernalillo County and one in Sandoval County – were both elderly men with underlying health issues.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who last month issued a stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the disease’s spread, has said she expects more fatal cases of coronavirus in the coming days and weeks before New Mexico hits its peak number of cases.
“The big thing here is this is a deadly virus … it’s highly contagious and there’s no vaccine,” Lujan Grisham said during a Thursday news briefing.
Meanwhile, health officials also said that confirmed coronavirus cases have now been identified in nine different group homes statewide, including La Vida Llena retirement community in Albuquerque that has seen a cluster of cases – among both residents and staffers – and two deaths.
The other facilities included assisted-living homes in Farmington, Aztec and Santa Fe, along with four other similar facilities in Albuquerque.
In all, confirmed cases have been reported in 26 of the state’s 33 counties. The first cases in the southwestern New Mexico counties of Luna and Hidalgo were reported Friday.
There are currently 75 individuals hospitalized due to coronavirus symptoms statewide, health officials said, while the Department of Health has designated 235 people as having recovered.
The latest developments come as New Mexicans are preparing for Easter weekend.
Lujan Grisham did not order churches and other places of worship to shut down under a public health emergency order, but she said most have closed their doors voluntarily and shifted to online or drive-through religious services.
“I know that all of us are missing our faith-based traditions this Easter weekend,” Lujan Grisham said during Thursday’s news conference.
$35 million to help hospitals
With New Mexico hospitals struggling financially due to elective surgeries being put on hold, the state Human Services Department said it was distributing $35 million in relief funds to 35 hospitals statewide.
That money will be distributed through the state’s Medicaid program that covers more than 830,000 New Mexico residents.
It was scheduled to be gradually dispersed over the next six months, but state health officials said they decided to advance the payments to give hospitals more of a financial cushion.
“Providing support to New Mexico hospitals is more important than ever,” state Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux said Friday. “We cannot afford to have hospitals bear the burden of this financial strain at a time when New Mexicans need these health care facilities the most.”
Most people who test positive for coronavirus have only mild to moderate symptoms – fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath – and do not require hospitalization.
But severe cases require medical intervention and state officials have warned the state’s health care system could be overwhelmed if the disease’s infection rate isn’t kept in check.
While some models have recently lowered the projected death rates from the disease, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said state-level modeling still shows between 2,110 and 4,567 deaths over the next 12 months, depending on how effective the stay-at-home order and other strategies prove.
Isolation, quarantine orders coming?
With the coronavirus spreading in New Mexico, state court officials said Friday they were preparing for possible isolation and quarantine orders to be issued.
A training session was held Friday for roughly 90 attorneys who volunteered through the state Bar of New Mexico to represent individuals in such cases.
“By having a trained group of judges and lawyers on call to handle public health cases, New Mexico’s court system can respond quickly if state authorities seek a quarantine or isolation order to help control the spread of coronavirus,” Supreme Court Justice David Thomson said.
A 2003 state law gives the governor’s administration the power to isolate or quarantine individuals – usually through a court order – to prevent or limit the spread of a communicable disease.
While no individualized quarantine orders had been issued as of Friday, the governor said this week she would consider taking such action in certain cases.
And Lujan Grisham last month did issue an order requiring air travelers to New Mexico to self-isolate for at least 14 days after landing in an attempt to slow coronavirus infection rates.
Journal staff writer Rick Nathanson contributed to this report.