Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico crossed a grim threshold Monday – more than 100 dead in the coronavirus outbreak, just 35 days after the first fatality in Artesia.
The death toll reached 104 on Monday as the state announced five more deaths, all men, ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s.
For the most part, New Mexico’s 104 virus victims were older adults with underlying medical conditions – such as diabetes or heart problems. At least 34 lived in group care facilities, where virus outbreaks have proved deadly and difficult to contain.
But otherwise healthy New Mexicans in their 30s through 60s also have died, some without first having been hospitalized, according to demographic data released by the state.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said last week that the state is stepping up its testing in nursing homes and long-term care facilities – even before anyone is sick – to catch the disease before it spreads in a fragile population.
“The quicker we get ahead and know what’s happening,” she said, “the more lives we save.”
One-third of New Mexico’s counties have endured at least one death in the outbreak. But the burden is especially heavy in San Juan and McKinley counties – in the northwestern part of the state – where the Navajo Nation has been hit hard.
Through Monday, the death rate in San Juan County – about 30 virus fatalities for every 100,000 people – was six times higher than the state as a whole. New Mexico’s death rate was just under 5.
A Journal analysis of demographic data released by the state through Monday showed:
• At least one-third of New Mexico’s virus deaths were residents of group living facilities, such as retirement communities or skilled-nursing centers in Albuquerque and Farmington. Human Services Secretary David Scrase, a geriatrician, suggested last week that the state’s internal data estimates an even higher figure – that closer to 45% of New Mexico’s deaths were residents of group living centers.
• About 83% of the fatalities were people with underlying medical conditions. The state hasn’t revealed which medical conditions are reflected in its totals, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that those at risk include people with severe obesity, diabetes, serious heart problems or lung, kidney and liver diseases.
• Two-thirds of those who died were in their 70s or older.
• Most of the dead had been hospitalized with the illness. At least one victim – a Bernalillo County man in his 40s, with an underlying health condition – was found at his home.
New Mexico health officials said Monday that testing throughout the state had confirmed 101 more cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
The cases announced Monday also included some positive results from Sunday, when some laboratories reported only partial totals because of a technical lapse.
The overwhelming bulk of the new cases – 79 of the 101 – came from McKinley and San Juan counties.
Altogether, the state now has confirmed 2,823 cases of the virus since the first positive tests emerged March 11. Health officials said the number of actual infections is likely higher because not everyone with the virus has actually been tested or had their results come in.
About 49.8% of the reported cases so far are among Native Americans, though they make up just 11% of the population overall.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is now 155, up from 148 on Sunday, and 666 people are now classified as having recovered.
State health officials have repeatedly urged New Mexicans to stay home unless absolutely necessary and have ordered the closure of nonessential businesses.
In public briefings, Lujan Grisham has said that state officials are considering how to slowly reopen more of the economy, but that it isn’t safe to do so yet.
She said she expects to extend New Mexico’s public health orders through May 15.
But there are signs of optimism. The growth in new cases has flattened, state officials said last week, and the transmission rate of the disease has fallen because of New Mexicans’ willingness to stay home and embrace social distancing.