Proposal calls for free masks, at-home tests - Albuquerque Journal

Proposal calls for free masks, at-home tests

In this file photo, Miana Ortiz, 8, gets her COVID-19 vaccine from Lytisha Roybal, a medical assistant at the CHRISTUS St. Vincent Entrada Contenta Health Center in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico would distribute free high-quality masks and COVID-19 test kits to the public under a $60 million plan prefiled ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

The proposal would tap into the state’s allocation of federal funds to provide $10 million for KN95 or equivalent masks and $50 million for at-home tests.

The push for better masks and increased testing comes as New Mexico prepares for a spike in cases fueled by the omicron variant. The state’s test positivity rate for the last seven days reached 19.8% on Tuesday, about 8 percentage points higher than a week ago.

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat and member of the Senate Finance Committee, said it’s important for more New Mexicans to upgrade from cloth masks to N95 or KN95 masks offering more protection. He said his legislation would draw on unspent federal relief funds sent to New Mexico.

“This funding can help provide some of the most powerful tools we have to limit the spread of COVID, and that’s high-quality masks, and convenient accessible tests,” Steinborn said in a written statement.

Lawmakers are set to begin a 30-day session Jan. 18 dedicated largely to budget and finance legislation.

Steinborn’s proposal would call for the Department of Health to distribute masks and at-home test kits with $60 million in funding. The agency would also launch a statewide education campaign on the importance and proper usage of masks.

Hospitalizations up

The Department of Health on Tuesday reported 1,654 new COVID-19 cases.

The state also announced 31 more COVID-19 deaths, 20 of them in Bernalillo County.

Twenty-three of the fatalities happened in the last 30 days, and eight happened earlier but their death certificates weren’t processed until recently.

The official statewide death toll is now 5,897 residents.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also ticked upward.

The state reported 493 patients hospitalized for the disease Tuesday, a 4% increase over Monday.

New Mexico hasn’t yet seen the explosive growth facing other states hit by the omicron surge.

New Mexico, in fact, ranks in the lower half of states for recent COVID-19 cases per capita, according to federal data. New Mexico had 564 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days – 14th lowest out of 50 states.

Quicker boosters

The state’s vaccination rate is relatively strong, ranking among the top 15 in some categories.

About 76% of New Mexico adults have completed their initial vaccination series and about 36% have received a booster shot.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday shortened the booster timeline for people who received the Pfizer vaccine.

Individuals who got their second Pfizer dose at least five months ago are now eligible for a booster shot, rather than having to wait six months.

Recommendations for the other vaccines remain the same – two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or six months after the Moderna one.

People who aren’t fully vaccinated have made up a disproportionate share of New Mexico’s infections. They comprised 70% of new cases, 84% of hospitalizations and 84% of deaths in the most recent four-week period with data available, according to a state epidemiology report released Dec. 27.

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