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NM reports 9 virus deaths, with 229 new cases

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In this file photo from July, medical staffers perform COVID-19 testing at Lovelace Hospital in Downtown Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Nine more residents died in New Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak, state officials said Wednesday, but there are new signs the disease isn’t spreading as rapidly as it did earlier this summer.

The state also moved Wednesday to impose new reporting requirements for employers who learn of a COVID-19 case among their employees. They must now inform the state Environment Department within four hours – a mandate intended to help the state respond more quickly to viral outbreaks at businesses.

With nine deaths Wednesday, the statewide death toll stands at 667 people.

The latest victims include adults ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s. Six of the nine had an underlying medical condition of some kind.

State health officials also reported that testing had detected 229 new cases of the virus Wednesday – well below the spike in cases recorded last week. New Mexico is now averaging about 205 cases a day for the last week, down from a rolling average of 330 cases a week ago.

Statistical modeling also shows progress.

The coronavirus transmission rate fell to 0.9 through Sunday – its lowest level since mid-June and down from 1.1 a week ago, according to a new report by Presbyterian Healthcare Services and state officials.

Any rate below 1.0 means the virus is spreading to fewer people – because each person who is infected spreads the disease to less than one other person, on average.

The latest modeling report shows the disease is spreading most rapidly in southeastern New Mexico, where the transmission rate is estimated at 1.1.

The state issued an emergency rule Wednesday requiring employers to report positive cases within four hours.

The Environment Department said in a news release that its Occupational Health and Safety Bureau is frequently notified about positive cases after employers, delaying the state’s rapid response teams.

There have been more than 280 instances, for example, of an employer learning about a case at least three days before NMED, according to the department.

Employers should report cases to NMENV-OSHA@state.nm.us or (505) 476-8700.

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said Wednesday that her association had not been provided with the new document, despite requesting guidelines for businesses with a COVID-positive employee.

“At least we have the first step and we know to call the department,” Wight wrote in an email. “The reason we are adamant about having a set of guidelines is so that businesses know what to do and are not treated differently by different state employees and regulators. I have heard of restaurants that have been through the Rapid Response program and some are closed down for two weeks and others did not have to close at all.”

The state has now confirmed 21,566 cases of the disease out of 597,408 tests for a positivity rate of 3.6%. The rate has fallen in recent days – to an average of 3.5% over the past week.

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