DOH Officials Describe COVID-19 Rise in NM as “Alarming”

The state today reported 713 new cases and seven additional deaths

In a clear sign of changing conditions, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase today provided a COVID-19 update from quarantine. Scrase said he attended a “government function” last week and spent time with a friend who subsequently tested positive for the disease a few days later. While Scrase says he personally has tested negative, he’s following public health advice and quarantining for 10 days.

Needless to say, Scrase is vaccinated and his test was negative. He’s not taking any chances. While data shows COVID-19 vaccines protect recipients from hospitalizations and deaths as they were intended, fully vaccinated people can contract the virus. And some new evidence shows they can transmit it.

Granted, so-called “breakthrough” cases—vaccinated people contracting COVID-19—remain relatively rare In New Mexico. According to the state’s weekly epidemiology report, cumulatively, 92.6% of cases between Feb. 1 and Aug. 9 were among unvaccinated people, as were 92.8% of hospitalizations and 97.5% of deaths.

In today’s briefing, Scrase detailed data emerging from the high-profile outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, over the July 4 weekend in which hundreds of people, many vaccinated, ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

“As a scientist this makes sense to me,” Scrase said. “It’s not like when we get vaccinated, our noses and mouths close.” The virus can still penetrate. “But if you’re vaccinated, your immune system is trained to fight that out.” And the vaccines are protecting people.

“When I got vaccinated, it was to prevent me needing hospitalization, me dying, me spreading the infection to other people,” Scrase said. “For the most part, those two good reasons of avoiding hospitalization and death still clearly stand. Vaccination prevents those, even with Delta, based on this one study.”

But that study also shows vaccinated people with COVID-19 infections transmitted the virus to others.

“That is a major game changer when it comes to mask recommendation,” Scrase said, “from where we were even two weeks ago.”

Both Scrase and state Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross shared a wealth of data and studies today, the vast majority of which Scrase characterized as “alarming.”

To start, New Mexico’s cases have risen ten-fold since July, as have cases nationwide. “We’re seeing a really rapid rise,” Ross said. “Trends have been going absolutely in the wrong direction, mostly fueled by this highly contagious Delta variant.”

New Mexico health officials today reported 713 new COVID-19 cases—a slight increase from yesterday— bringing the statewide total so far to 216,494. DOH has designated 197,868 of those cases as recovered.

Bernalillo County had 175 new cases, followed by Lea County with 80 new cases and Eddy County with 67. Santa Fe County had 18 new cases.

The state also announced seven additional deaths, four recent and three from more than 30 days ago. There have now been 4,437 fatalities.

As of today, 258 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.* More details on today’s cases and fatalities are available at the end of this story.

Cases are likely to continue increasing, with worst-case scenarios from the Los Alamos National Laboratory model forecasting 900 to 1,500 cases daily by the end of the month.

The health department’s most recent report on variants indicates most if not all of the state’s COVID-19 cases are now the fast-spreading Delta variant.

Ross also shared a study indicating Delta may cause higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths for the unvaccinated.

As a result, officials are reinforcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking guidelines for fully vaccinated people, which recommend wearing masks indoors within counties that have substantial or high transmission rates (most of New Mexico as the map below shows). Scrase said DOH plans to begin publishing the map weekly, while acknowledging, “I know the last thing anyone wants to see if another color scheme.”

Ross and Scrase also reiterated the need to resume COVID-19 testing under a variety of circumstances regardless of vaccination status, such as if one has symptoms; has had contact with someone who has tested positive and is infectious; or is a patient scheduled for surgery or hospital admission.

The state’s test positivity rate—once used as a key gating criteria—has risen steadily since last month, indicating that testing is insufficient.

Despite a bevy of bad news, both Ross and Scrase reiterated that a combination of mitigation efforts—hand-washing, social distancing and masks—combined with increased vaccination have the ability to counter the current situation.

“We can work together to level this out and not see the same magnitude of the surge that we saw in the winter,” Ross said. “We have tools we can use to flatten this out.”

Currently, among adult New Mexicans 18 years and older, 74.3% of New Mexicans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 65.6% are fully vaccinated. Among those between the ages of 12 and 17, 52.8% have had at least one dose and 41.1% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 18 years and older, 86.1% are partially vaccinated and 76.2% are fully inoculated.

The lowest percentage of fully vaccinated New Mexicans over the age of 15 are the 18-24-year-old group. The 12-15-year-old age group has had a 3.8% increase in fully vaccination since the end of July. In yesterday’s news conference, hospital leaders said they are seeing increasing hospitalizations among younger adults, an observation born out in this week’s hospitalization report, which shows the highest growth of hospitalizations among those 18-34-years-old.

New cases

  • 175 new cases in Bernalillo County
  • 3 new cases in Catron County
  • 53 new cases in Chaves County
  • 2 new cases in Cibola County
  • 7 new cases in Colfax County
  • 21 new cases in Curry County
  • 7 new cases in De Baca County
  • 51 new cases in Doña Ana County
  • 67 new cases in Eddy County
  • 5 new cases in Grant County
  • 1 new case in Guadalupe County
  • 5 new cases in Hidalgo County
  • 80 new cases in Lea County
  • 10 new cases in Lincoln County
  • 5 new cases in Los Alamos County
  • 6 new cases in Luna County
  • 27 new cases in McKinley County
  • 17 new cases in Otero County
  • 8 new cases in Quay County
  • 16 new cases in Rio Arriba County
  • 12 new cases in Roosevelt County
  • 41 new cases in Sandoval County
  • 39 new cases in San Juan County
  • 7 new cases in San Miguel County
  • 18 new cases in Santa Fe County
  • 2 new cases in Sierra County
  • 1 new case in Socorro County
  • 3 new cases in Torrance County
  • 20 new cases in Valencia County
  • 2 new cases among individuals held by federal agencies at the Otero County Processing Center
  • 2 new cases among individuals held by federal agencies at the Torrance County Detention Facility

New fatalities

  • A female in her 100s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized
  • A male in his 40s from Dona Ana County who was hospitalized.
  • A male in his 90s from Dona Ana County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions
  • A female in her 80s from Grant County who was hospitalized

Newly reported fatalities from more than 30 days ago

DOH says COVID-19 deaths are not reported as such until death certificates are issued, some of which have been delayed due to incomplete information.

  • A male in his 40s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions
  • A male in his 70s from Dona Ana County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions
  • A male in his 60s from Guadalupe County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions

Congregate facilities

The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in the past 28 days at the following facilities:

  • Advanced Health Care in Albuquerque
  • Bloomfield Nursing and Rehabilitation in Bloomfield
  • The Bridge of Farmington in Farmington
  • Casa de Oro in Las Cruces
  • Desert Springs Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hobbs
  • Elmcroft of Quintessence in Albuquerque
  • Good Life Senior Living and Memory Care in Artesia
  • Good Life Senior Living and Memory Care in Los Lunas
  • Good Life Senior Living in Portales
  • Laguna Rainbow Care Center in Casa Blanca
  • Las Palomas Center in Albuquerque
  • Miners Colfax Medical Center in Raton
  • MorningStar Assisted Living and Memory Care of Albuquerque
  • The Neighborhood in Rio Rancho Assisted Living in Rio Rancho
  • Odelia Healthcare (Camino Healthcare) in Albuquerque
  • The Rehabilitation Center of Albuquerque
  • The Rio at Las Estancias in Albuquerque
  • Silver Wings Assisted Living in Albuquerque
  • Skies Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque
  • Sunset Villa Care Center in Roswell
  • Vida Encantada Nursing & Rehabilitation in Las Vegas
  • The Watermark at Cherry Hills in Albuquerque

Statewide cases

County totals are subject to change upon further investigation and determination of residency of individuals positive for COVID-19.

  • Bernalillo County: 62,349
  • Catron County: 109
  • Chaves County: 9,518
  • Cibola County: 2,965
  • Colfax County: 837
  • Curry County: 5,673
  • De Baca County: 199
  • Doña Ana County: 25,870
  • Eddy County: 7,896
  • Grant County: 1,821
  • Guadalupe County: 487
  • Harding County: 13
  • Hidalgo County: 474
  • Lea County: 9,102
  • Lincoln County: 1,972
  • Los Alamos County: 575
  • Luna County: 3,495
  • McKinley County: 12,747
  • Mora County: 184
  • Otero County: 4,371
  • Quay County: 620
  • Rio Arriba County: 3,981
  • Roosevelt County: 2,177
  • Sandoval County: 12,929
  • San Juan County: 16,299
  • San Miguel County: 1,537
  • Santa Fe County: 11,102
  • Sierra County: 807
  • Socorro County: 1,373
  • Taos County: 1,831
  • Torrance County: 935
  • Union County: 267
  • Valencia County: 7,308

Cases among people being held by federal agencies

  • Cibola County Correctional Center: 451
  • Otero County Federal Prison Facility: 453
  • Otero County Processing Center: 436
  • Torrance County Detention Facility: 335

Cases among people being held by the New Mexico Department of Corrections

  • Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 302
  • Guadalupe County Correctional Facility: 255
  • Lea County Correctional Facility: 762
  • Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County: 169
  • Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 130
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 473
  • Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 219
  • Roswell Correctional Center: 229
  • Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County: 231
  • Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County: 151
  • Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County: 75

*Per the health department, hospitalization figures include people who were tested elsewhere but are hospitalized in New Mexico, but don’t include people who were tested here but are hospitalized out of state.

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