Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Santa Fe County, and local officials are beginning to take notice.
The county reported eight additional cases on Saturday and 10 more on Sunday. Six people tested positive Monday, bringing the county’s total to 234 since the coronavirus pandemic started.
And while the daily numbers remain low compared with neighboring counties, there has been an increase in the daily rate of cases. For the past two weeks, the county had an average of four new cases per day, doubling the rate from the previous two weeks.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber addressed the rise in cases during a virtual news conference Monday, saying many in Santa Fe are not wearing face coverings, as required by the city and state.
“The general concern is that as we’re opening up the economy we’re not seeing people abide by the best practices we were focused on in the early days of COVID-19,” he said.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Santa Fe County had a much lower infection rate than other New Mexico counties. David Scrase, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Department, even commended the county for keeping its infection numbers low.
Now, the diligence against the virus has begun to lose momentum, Webber said.
“I’m concerned that that discipline is starting to wane,” he said.
Coinciding with the rise in cases is the large increase in tourists arriving in Santa Fe from across the country. The surge in out-of-state visitors has not gone unnoticed by residents, many of whom have taken their concerns to social media.
“Sooooo many people out on the plaza today,” Sammy Lopez wrote on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board, a public forum for local residents. “About 60% NOT in masks.”
Webber said data from the state Department of Health do not indicate that out-of-state visitors are behind the rise in cases, but he acknowledged few of them are tested in New Mexico.
“I can’t say with certainty that the visitors who are coming to stay at our hotels are completely COVID-free,” Webber said.
The city of Santa Fe and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have issued requirements to wear face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible. The Santa Fe ordinance has been in effect since June 10.
Officers with the Santa Fe Police Department are supposed to issue a warning for a first offense, then impose a $50 fine to anyone caught not wearing a mask a second time. While the number of citations issued remains unknown, Webber said that it’s probably “only a handful” and that enforcement of the ordinance will increase.
Most of the recent cases, the mayor said, came within the 87505 ZIP code, located away from areas frequented by tourists. The 87505 ZIP code had 54 cases as of Monday.
The 87507 area, which encompasses nearly all of the city’s Southside area, had 93 confirmed cases. Santa Fe’s South Side has a larger Hispanic population than other parts of the city and is one of its lowest-income areas.
Webber said that Santa Fe is still doing well at keeping the number of coronavirus cases relatively low but that continually high daily numbers could be cause for concern.
“If we start going from 10 into more double digits, I think we’re in real trouble,” he said.
Just to the north, Rio Arriba County has also had a steady increase in cases. Since June 1, when Lujan Grisham eased many COVID-related restrictions on businesses, Rio Arriba’s caseload has increased by 93%. As of Monday, 96 people had tested positive in the county.