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New infections surge to 281, highest since July


In this Sept. 17 file photo, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Environment Secretary James Kenney prepare to give a weekly update on the COVID-19 health emergency in New Mexico. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – New Mexico reported 281 new coronavirus cases Wednesday – the most in a single day since infections peaked in late July, continuing a three-week surge.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of publicly reported cases now stands at 207 a day – more than twice the average for the week ending Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, according to a Journal analysis.

The infection levels are well beyond the state’s goal of just 168 or fewer cases a day.

In a statement on Twitter, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to wear masks, avoid in-person gatherings and to seek testing if they feel sick.

“Please,” she said, “take this virus seriously. … COVID-19 is not through with us.”

Top health officials say travel and social gatherings over Labor Day weekend may be a factor in the increase.

The jump in cases also comes after the state relaxed some health restrictions over the past month. Indoor dining at restaurants and breweries, for example, is now allowed at 25% capacity.

Elementary school students in some counties have also returned to campus on a hybrid schedule rotating in-person and remote learning.

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county, led New Mexico with 61 infections Wednesday, followed by 41 cases in Doña Ana County and 33 in Curry County.

The share of tests that come back positive is also climbing – an indication that the increase in infections isn’t a result only of more testing. The positivity rate hit 3% in the seven-day period ending Sunday, about 1 percentage point higher than it was at one point earlier in September.

Statistical modeling by the state Department of Health estimates the disease is spreading faster than it has since the early days of the pandemic. The spread rate was estimated at 1.25 on Monday, meaning each person infected will on average spread the disease to 1.3 other people.

The state target is a rate of 1.05 or less.

Health officials on Wednesday also reported the deaths of two men in their 80s from Lea County, one of whom had an underlying medical condition. The statewide death toll has reached 877.

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