Virus death toll for NM grows by 114 after audit - Albuquerque Journal

Virus death toll for NM grows by 114 after audit

In this Jan. 20 file photo, from left, funeral directors Israel Perea, Santiago Salazar III, Jacob Shaw and Christy Cantu at Berardinelli Family Funeral Service prepare to transport a casket to the Santa Fe National Cemetery as part of a funeral for a woman who died from COVID-19. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico added more than 110 fatalities to its official COVID-19 death toll Monday as the Department of Health announced the completion of an audit of public health records.

The adjustment pushed the state’s coronavirus-related deaths to 4,245 – a jump of 114 fatalities since the final report of last week.

All but one of the deaths – that of a man in his 60s from Bernalillo County – was due to the audit of health records, according to the state figures.

David Morgan, a spokesman for the Department of Health, said the deaths were added to the total after health officials caught up on the processing of vital records to check for inaccurate or incomplete information.

The work, he said, included requesting information from Texas hospitals that handled patients from New Mexico.

The additions to the list, Morgan said, are deaths directly caused by COVID-19 and others in which the virus played a role, sometimes by exacerbating another medical condition.

At the height of the pandemic in December, the state was reporting more than 40 coronavirus-related deaths a day on average.

“It’s very difficult under the best of circumstances to keep up,” Morgan said.

Mark Rudi, a spokesman for the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, which includes the Office of the Medical Investigator, said Monday that the agency “handled an unprecedented number of cases in 2020.”

Autopsies usually take six to 12 weeks, he said, and more complicated cases can take much longer.

New Mexico has generally had more COVID-19 deaths per capita than its neighbors, except for Arizona.

Monday’s update increased the state’s COVID-19 death toll by almost 3%, but the adjustment wasn’t uniform throughout the state.

Bernalillo County – the state’s most populous county – had its total adjusted down by 1%, from 949 deaths to 936.

In Doña Ana County, by contrast, virus-related deaths climbed by 5%, from 459 to 484.

Two other counties that border Texas also had increases in COVID-19 fatalities: Lea County’s total grew 14%, from 170 to 194, and Quay County’s count went from eight to 10, a 25% increase.

Deaths aren’t part of the state’s statistical criteria for setting public health restrictions at the county-level, so the adjustments won’t affect any county’s status in the red-to-turquoise framework.

The state on Monday also reported 366 new coronavirus cases for the three-day period from Saturday through Monday.

Just the one recent death was reported.

Overall, New Mexico reported about 20% more deaths – of any cause – in 2020 compared with 2019, according to figures released by the Department of Health earlier this year.

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death last year, behind heart disease and cancer.

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