Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico recorded 577 new coronavirus cases Wednesday – not just a daily record, but 19% higher than the previous peak.
The state also reported three more virus fatalities, pushing the statewide total to 921 deaths since the pandemic arrived in March.
Fatalities haven’t shot up as much as cases so far. The state averaged about 10 deaths a day at one point in May.
But hospitalizations are surging, with 145 patients in New Mexico hospitals on Wednesday, an increase of 69% since the beginning of the month. Eighteen patients are on ventilators.
Wednesday’s total of 577 cases is well beyond the previous record for cases reported in a day – 483 cases on Friday last week.
“We’re setting all the wrong records,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Twitter. “Illnesses are skyrocketing. If we don’t stop the spread, we’ll set more records next week.”
Top health officials for the state have said they fear the daily death totals may climb eventually, too, as the disease progresses. But so far, even amid the case surge, New Mexico has averaged three deaths a day over the last week, well below the peak of 10 a day.
The fatalities announced Wednesday involved adults in their 70s and 90s, all of whom had an underlying medical problem of some kind. Common conditions among New Mexico’s COVID-19 deaths include heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The growth in cases comes as New Mexico prepares to tighten restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Starting Friday, the state will impose a 10 p.m. closing time on establishments that serve alcohol, ban gatherings of more than five people and reduce the maximum occupancy at hotels.
A requirement to wear masks in public settings will remain in effect.
Cases are growing in every region of the state, according to statistical modeling by the Department of Health. But the spread rate is fastest in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, said the state’s “epidemiologists have made it very clear that these record numbers are due to the fact that we are dealing with unprecedented public health risk statewide that can’t be pinned on one specific place or another.”
Health officials have said the growth in cases appears to have been set in motion around Labor Day, perhaps through increased travel and social gatherings.
They haven’t pinpointed any particular leading cause but are urging people to wear masks anytime they leave the house, limit their trips outside the home and avoid social gatherings.
An increasing share of people who test positive and have their cases investigated by contact tracers report having visited a restaurant or brewery beforehand. Travel outside the state and attendance at gatherings of some kind are also possible exposures that are commonly reported.
Increased testing doesn’t explain all of the growth. The share of tests that come back positive climbed to 5.3% in a recent seven-day period – more than twice what the rate was in late September.