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As cases plunge, NM reaches virus goals


In this file photo from Aug. 5, Terra Swenn wears a mask while running Noula\’s Coffee shop on the Taos Plaza. She said tourist traffic has dropped since New Mexico issued an order for out-of-state visitors to quarantine for two weeks. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — The number of new coronavirus infections in New Mexico continued to dive Monday, allowing the state to clear every standard health officials have set as necessary for reopening more of the economy.

Testing detecting just 95 new cases Monday — the smallest number in almost two months.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases now stands at 151 — well below Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s goal of 168 or fewer cases a day, established just last week, according to a Journal analysis.

The collapse in new infections comes as Lujan Grisham and state health officials weigh whether to allow public schools to hold in-person classes after Labor Day. They are also facing pressure to permit indoor dining at restaurants and breweries.

The last substantial loosening of New Mexico’s health restrictions — in early June — was followed by a surge in new virus cases. About five weeks later, Lujan Grisham tightened the state’s mask mandate and reimposed the ban on indoor seating at restaurants.

But as of Monday, New Mexico met all the criteria established by the state Department of Health for resuming a phased reopening of the economy, according to a Journal review. The standards cover the disease transmission rate, number of new cases, supplies of medical equipment, testing capacity and other factors.

“Keep up the great work, New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said on Twitter. “Your efforts are making a difference.”

Lujan Grisham and health officials said last week that they wanted to see New Mexico sustain compliance with the standards for some time before relaxing the restrictions on schools, businesses and social gatherings.

They suggested they’d also like to beat the targets by enough to allow for the new cases that would arise from reopening more of the state.

The public health order is set to expire Aug. 28, though the administration is free to revise it before then or extend it.

The 95 cases announced Monday are the lowest total for a day since mid-June.

The state also reported four coronavirus deaths, pushing the number of fatalities to 718 since the pandemic reached New Mexico in March. The victims ranged in age from their 40s to their 90s, and all had an underlying medical condition of some kind.

At least one of the state’s criteria — for testing capacity — is trending in the wrong direction but still well within the state targets.

New Mexico is now conducting about 6,587 tests a day on average, down from a 7,884 a little over a week ago. But the testing capacity remains well above the state’s goal of 5,000 a day.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has fallen, suggesting New Mexico’s declining case counts aren’t only a result of doing fewer tests. The positivity rate for the most recent week reported by the state is 2.9%, down more than a percentage point from where it stood earlier this month.

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