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New Mexico’s virus surge claims its youngest victim

Albuquerque Fire Rescue Lt. Jake Gray inserts a swab into a driver’s nostril during the COVID-19 drive-up screening at Expo New Mexico in September. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Another record high and a new, sad record low.

The Governor’s Office on Friday reported 819 new cases of COVID-19 statewide, topping a three-day surge of record-breaking case counts.

It also reported the youngest New Mexican to die from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus – a teenage girl from Eddy County who was not said to have underlying conditions or be hospitalized. The death was among six fatalities included in Friday’s count.

“My prayers are with her family,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham included in a Twitter post.

Friday’s case count is 80% higher than the last peak of 455 in mid-July. The seven-day average is now at the highest it’s ever been, surpassing 500 for the first time.

There have now been 35,770 cases of COVID-19 reported statewide and 928 deaths since the first positive cases surfaced in March.

Additional deaths reported Friday include: a Bernalillo County woman in her 80s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions; a Chaves County woman in her 90s who had underlying conditions and was a resident of an assisted living facility; a Roosevelt County woman in her 70s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions; a San Juan County woman in her 70s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions; and a Socorro County man in his 60s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

According to a news release, Bernalillo County once again led the state with the highest number of daily cases – 178 – with Doña Ana County second at 146.

But 11 other counties had double-digit case counts as well, including 76 new cases in Curry County, 54 new cases in Lea County, 42 new cases in Sandoval County, and 39 new cases in Santa Fe County.

The New Mexico Corrections Department also reported 20 new cases among inmates at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County. In the Otero County Prison Facility, 31 inmates in federal custody also tested positive.

The number of COVID-19 cases has increased throughout the country over the past couple of weeks, and The New York Times is reporting a 25% increase nationwide in cases – looking at seven-day averages – over the past 14 days. However, the number of cases currently reported each day has not surpassed the peak of the wave over the summer.

In New Mexico, the recent spike has been much more dramatic – the seven-day average increased by 133.8% over the past 14 days. The state has begun to get national attention for its rapid increase in cases.

In a news conference Thursday, Lujan Grisham warned that this is the “most serious emergency New Mexico has ever had” and that some intensive care units in Albuquerque have reached capacity. She said hospitalizations from COVID-19 have increased 74% since the beginning of the month.

As of Friday, 168 people were hospitalized for the virus in the state, although that number includes those who are transferred to New Mexico from other states and does not include New Mexicans who are sent to hospitals in other states. The state Department of Health has designated 19,613 cases as recovered.

On Friday new health restrictions also went into effect to try to slow the spread of the virus again.

n All food or drink establishments serving alcohol must close at 10 p.m. each night. This restriction is based on a recommendation from the governor’s Economic Recovery Council and follows the lead of other states. The requirement will be rigorously enforced, a governor’s spokeswoman wrote in a news release.

n Hotels and other places of lodging that have gone through a New Mexico Safe Certified training program can have a maximum occupancy of 60%. Those that have not completed the program can have a maximum occupancy of 25%. Previously the maximum occupancy was 75% and 50%, respectively.

n People coming to New Mexico from high-risk states must self-quarantine. Previously those coming from higher-risk states could be exempt from a self-quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival, but that is no longer the case.

n Gatherings – defined as public or private events, ceremonies, parades, organized amateur contact sports or any other grouping that brings people together inside or out – are once more limited to no more than five people. Previously the state had allowed up to 10 people to gather.

The amended public health order is in place until Nov. 13, but the Governor’s Office said if conditions continue to rapidly worsen officials can tighten restrictions further before that time.

“If New Mexico’s COVID-19 spread continues to spiral out of control, our state hospital and health care infrastructure will not be able to support the unprecedented health care needs of sick and dying New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “I cannot be more clear: The moment to turn the tide has to be right now, immediately, or else we face accelerating significant illnesses and needless deaths for hundreds of New Mexicans. The state will be forced to hunker back down. The health and economic consequences caused by the continued out-of-control spread of the virus will be devastating.”

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