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State is working on a ‘bridge to pandemic ending,’ secretary says

Yesenia Hinojos, age 24, receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Manuel Mandel at First Nations Community Healthsource Clinic in southeast Albuquerque on March 31. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo and Sandoval counties are stuck in yellow-level virus restrictions, but Santa Fe County held on to its coveted turquoise status under the latest color-coded map released Wednesday by the state Department of Health.

Cibola, San Miguel and Harding counties are now in the green status.

San Juan and Hidalgo counties fell from turquoise to a more restrictive yellow status. And Guadalupe County moved from green to yellow because of an increase in cases and test positivity rates.

In a COVID-19 update by state officials Wednesday, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said the presence of several virus variants in New Mexico does not appear to be driving new cases.

“We’ve seen over 60 different variants in New Mexico through the first year of the pandemic,” Scrase said. “But none of them actually appear to have a consequence in terms of rate of spread or resistance to treatment, or resistance to vaccine or increased mortality rate or burden of illness.”

Nearly half of all New Mexico residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and more than 31% of people 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

The state is examining how best to include vaccination rates in the red-to-green framework, Scrase said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week that his state would be reopening its economy by mid-June if current COVID-19 trends hold. He also said California would be ending its tiered risk-level system and moving away from most restrictions, except for a mask mandate.

But Scrase said it is still too early to predict what pandemic restrictions could look like in New Mexico this summer.

“We are really working on some sort of bridge to the pandemic ending,” he said. “I don’t think we want to throw away the red, yellow, green system. We want to move in the general direction that takes everybody forward, and I think the vaccine is the thing that’s going to help us to do that.”

New Mexico vaccinated 92 people last week for every new virus case reported.

All residents in the Phase 1 vaccine eligibility group who are registered have received an NMDOH invitation to a vaccine appointment, Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said.

“If you’ve been invited and haven’t been able to attend an appointment, you will receive another invitation,” Collins said.

The state plans to expand vaccine self-scheduling soon to residents 60 years and older.

Currently, residents 75 and older can self-schedule a first vaccine dose. Everyone can self-schedule a booster dose appointment.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services, said COVID-19 vaccinations are helping to reduce deaths in New Mexico’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“Since the beginning of our vaccine rollout, the average number of daily deaths in all long term-care facilities dropped from 10 deaths a day to less than one death a day,” she said.

The department uses 5,000 to 6,000 doses each week for vaccination clinics that serve seniors and adults with disabilities.

The state is planning to host 12 additional vaccination clinics for those special populations in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico reported 222 new virus cases and three deaths Wednesday.

A total of 192,989 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state, and 3,963 people have died of the disease. More than 174,409 people are reported as recovered.

On Wednesday, 78 people were hospitalized with the virus in New Mexico.

Those whose deaths were announced Wednesday included a man in his 40s from San Miguel County, a man in his 60s from Grant County and a woman in her 100s from Otero County. All of the individuals had been hospitalized.

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