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Virus contact tracing efforts slip in New Mexico


In this file photo from Monday, Presbyterian medical staffers check a driver’s temperature at a COVID-19 testing site, following a spike in cases in the South Valley. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico fell out of compliance with one of its reopening standards Tuesday, reporting that it now takes 47 hours to quarantine people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The state’s target is to reach people within 36 hours of a positive test to alert them that they have had contact with a person who tested positive for the virus and should isolate until it’s clear they aren’t infected.

But the state remains in compliance with its seven other “gating criteria” – a set of targets on how quickly the disease is spreading, the supply of medical equipment and beds, and testing capacity.

In fact, New Mexico reported just 69 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the smallest number in a day since June. The state has averaged 137 new cases a day over the past week – well below the target of 168 or fewer daily cases.

Health officials also announced three more virus deaths, pushing the statewide total to 750 fatalities since March.

Statistical modeling by the Department of Health estimates that the disease has spread a little more quickly recently. The disease spread rate reached 1.01 over the past 10 days, a slight increase from last week, but still below the target of 1.05 or less.

The state is, however, no longer reaching one of its “contact tracing” goals.

About two weeks ago, the Department of Health reported that it took just 29 hours to isolate a person’s contacts after a positive test. But the figure ballooned to 47 hours in an update released Tuesday.

“It’s critical that we are able to communicate with those that have tested positive, and also to communicate with their contacts,” Jodi McGinnis Porter of the Human Services Department told the Journal in a written statement. “It’s really important that people provide accurate information for contact tracers to communicate with them.”

The weakness in contact tracing comes as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials weigh whether to allow in-person classes for elementary school students after Labor Day.

A public health order that bans indoor dining at restaurants, among other restrictions, is scheduled to expire Friday, although the governor’s administration may extend or revise it.

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