Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The number of coronavirus patients in New Mexico hospitals climbed 30% over the last week – a troubling sign of increased disease spread, state officials said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shared the figure Thursday as she pleaded with New Mexicans to rigorously adhere to the state’s mask mandate and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people at a time.
Eighty-six patients are hospitalized, she said, up from 66 last Thursday.
Furthermore, the number of new virus infections detected each day has blown past the state’s goal – doubling since Labor Day to an average of 171 cases, or three more than the state’s target of 168.
“We aren’t where we should be,” Lujan Grisham said. “The alarm bells are ringing.”
But she didn’t hint at immediate plans to impose new business restrictions or adjust New Mexico’s public health order, which runs through Oct. 16.
In fact, Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary David Scrase said they believe the regulations already in place – requiring masks in public settings and limiting social gatherings – are adequate, if people would just recommit to following them.
“The guidelines we’ve put in place are strong enough to manage the virus,” Lujan Grisham said.
But she and Scrase offered a blunt warning about New Mexico’s virus trends.
Scrase said cases are trending up all over the state – a “steep uptick,” he called it.
“I’m really concerned,” he said. “We all have to really buckle down.”
Hospitals still have adequate capacity, Lujan Grisham said, but the growth in hospitalized patients is a “concerning statistic.”
The 86 people hospitalized Thursday may include out-of-state residents who are cared for in New Mexico. On the other hand, it doesn’t include New Mexicans who are hospitalized in other states.
Altogether, New Mexico reported 227 new COVID-19 cases Thursday and five more deaths, pushing the statewide total to 882 fatalities.
The victims include a man in his 20s from Rio Arriba County, a woman in her 30s from Bernalillo County and three adults in their 60s or 70s. All had an underlying medical condition of some kind, a risk factor for the disease.
Common underlying conditions include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
“This is not a virus that just attacks older people,” said Lujan Grisham, a former state health secretary. “None of us are immune from getting the virus and being incredibly sick.”
The remote news conference – broadcast from the Capitol – comes as the state endures a three-week surge in coronavirus cases.
Testing in the week that ended on Labor Day detected an average of 81 new cases a day. But the figure spiked to an average of 171 in the seven-day period ending Friday, the most recent period with state data.
The increase isn’t just a result of more testing. The share of tests that come back positive is now up to 3.2% for the seven-day period ending Tuesday, from a low of about 1.9% on Sept. 12.
Health officials say increased travel and social gatherings over Labor Day weekend are likely factors in the increase. But they say people also appear to be growing tired of the pandemic and letting their guard down.
Lujan Grisham suggested New Mexicans set a limit for how many times they leave the house each day.
“If you’re going to seven or eight places in a day,” she said, “we’re giving this virus far too much opportunity to spread.”
Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said wearing masks and limiting transmission of the disease are crucial to the state’s ability to allow more in-person learning for students.
Through Thursday, he said, 28 of the state’s 33 counties are eligible to allow elementary students to return to campus on a hybrid schedule that rotates in-person and remote learning.
“We all want to get back and maximize in-person learning,” Stewart said. “We need everybody’s help to get there.”
The state has reported 205 school-related cases since Aug. 17 involving 107 schools. The cases include 144 staff members and 61 students.
Most of the cases, Stewart said, are from students and staff members who aren’t physically at school. Just 55 of the 205 cases, he said, involved people who participate in activities inside school buildings.