Two years ago today, New Mexico recorded its first four cases of COVID-19, marking the start of a series of government actions: declaration of a public health emergency, followed by orders limiting capacity at restaurants and businesses, which led to stay-at-home orders and, by May, 2020, masking requirements.
By the end of the pandemic’s first year, New Mexico had begun to roll out vaccines, although high case loads and hospitalizations continued into 2021, as did fatalities.
This year has been marked by new therapeutics, increased emphasis on home testing and, more recently, a call for “learning to live” with COVID as cases and hospitalizations decline.
From March 11, 2020 to today, the state has amassed 515,164 total cases and 7,050 deaths from the disease.
Today’s weekly COVID-19 news briefing included 70 seconds of silence for those deaths.
“As we mark this grim anniversary, we remember that those taken from us by this terrible virus are not just numbers—they are our family members, our friends, our coworkers and our neighbors, real people who have left behind empty seats at the table that will never be filled,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
But the briefing primarily focused on the current trajectory of the pandemic—illustrated in the chart below—and the path forward.
As cases and hospitalizations have become manageable, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said, starting March 14, the health department will be scaling back its daily reporting, a move health officials have been forecasting in recent weeks.
To that end, DOH will only report statewide daily and cumulative number of cases and no longer provide county-level updates on a daily basis. The daily reporting will also include the daily number of hospitalized patients; intubated patients; deaths; and test results.
Those daily reports won’t be disseminated through the media, but will be posted on the health department’s epidemiology report site, with weekly reports with greater detail updated by the end of the day on Tuesdays.
“We do have a Department of Health to run,” Scrase said today, while noting—not for the first time—that the department’s current method of compiling data takes 80 hours of staff time each day.
The state’s move to report statewide versus county-level case numbers arrives shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced a new “community levels” tracking system based on individual county metrics. The CDC now uses case counts and two hospital metrics in combination—all of New Mexico’s counties currently have “low” levels, except for Harding, Hidalgo and McKinley counties, which have medium levels. Last week, the CDC ranked 10 New Mexico counties, including Santa Fe County, as having “high” community levels. Scrase said the state also will roll out a dashboard reporting on county-level data in accordance with the new CDC system, but on a weekly rather than a daily basis “to give us a much better understanding of trends.”
That makes today the last day for the daily report to which we’ve grown accustomed. And here it is: New Mexico health officials today reported 264 new COVID-19 cases. Bernalillo County had 70 new cases, Doña Ana County with 35 and Sandoval County with 23. Santa Fe County had 18 new cases.
According to the most recent weekly vaccine report, between Feb. 7-March 7, 44% of COVID-19 cases were among people who had not completed a primary vaccination series; 28.2% were among those who had completed the series but had not received a booster; and 27.8% were among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. For hospitalizations, those figures change to 61.9%, 18.7% and 19.4%. The percentages shift to 63.9%, 18.7% and 17.4% for fatalities.
The state also announced 10 additional deaths, including a male in his 70s from Santa Fe County who had underlying conditions. Santa Fe County has now had a total of 254 deaths.
As of today, 148 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.*
The state’s hospitals, Scrase said, are developing new internal mechanisms for monitoring protections as COVID-19 levels fluctuate. The hospitals have continued to see improvements in the availability of their non Intensive Care Unit beds, but are still “a little tight on ICU beds,” Scrase said, and still stretched when it comes to workforce capacity.
“The state will continue to supply some additional nurses and other technicians and other healthcare works to support hospitals with occupancy rate over 105%,” he said, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will stop paying 100% of pandemic-related expenses for hospitals July 1.
Today also marked the end of the statewide Crisis Standards of Care order for hospitals. Scrase recalled the first time New Mexico enacted Crisis Standards of Care—in which hospitals can ration care if needed—on Dec. 9, 2020.
“Most of us went to bed that night thinking we would not have enough resources to care for sick New Mexicans the next morning,” he said. “For reasons I still don’t completely understand, that night there was sudden change in the number of cases and we never actually got to that point where we had to do that.”
With improving conditions, the state Public Education Department also announced today updated policies to its COVID-19 requirements, essentially now allowing individual school districts to make their own decisions regarding testing. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Feb. 18 revised public health order—removing the statewide indoor mask mandate—already allowed school districts to decide individually whether to require masks. According to PED, 23% of the state’s districts continue to require them.
PED’s revised COVID-19 “toolkit” still requires those returning to school following five days of self isolation in response to a positive test to mask for days six through 10. The new rules lift requirements that schools provide COVID testing programs for students, and instead allow results from a home antigen test along with a signed assurance for all testing purposes. Two rapid antigen tests taken 24-48 hours apart may be used to rule out COVID in symptomatic individuals.
“My colleagues and I are delighted that declining infection rates have allowed us to turn more decision-making over to the district and charter school leaders who know their communities best,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement. “We’ve waited a long time—working hard and learning as we went—to get to this point. My greatest hope is we can continue safely learning and teaching in-person.”
Santa Fe Public Schools, in turn, announced masks are now optional, immediately—10 days earlier than the date the district had initially targeted.
“Our COVID numbers are heading in the right direction, with the CDC’s level for Santa Fe County low. Now is the time to ease mask-wearing in our schools and return to a sense of normalcy,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said in a statement, adding: “Everyone is to be respected in their masking-wearing decision. For those who continue to wear masks, we are completely supportive.”
It’s not the first time New Mexico—and the US—has seen COVID-19 decline. In a recent interview, Scrase told SFR he anticipates another variant to emerge, perhaps in July.
The health department is close to finalizing a plan, Scrase said today, that evaluates the state’s preparedness for COVID-19 under current and ongoing conditions, as well as in the event of another surge.
The upshot, Scrase noted—using the 1918 influenza pandemic as a reference point—is “We don’t know what’s going to happen next. We don’t know what to expect for sure. I’m pretty sure on April 5, 1919, folks around the world seeing the most deaths of any modern infection occurring around the world…had no idea…they were about to come to the end of that serious pandemic, and we don’t either—but here’s hoping.”
- 70 new cases in Bernalillo County
- 2 new cases in Catron County
- 3 new cases in Chaves County
- 10 new cases in Cibola County
- 4 new cases in Colfax County
- 8 new cases in Curry County
- 1 new case in De Baca County
- 35 new cases in Doña Ana County
- 1 new case in Eddy County
- 6 new cases in Grant County
- 2 new cases in Guadalupe County
- 4 new cases in Lea County
- 1 new case in Lincoln County
- 6 new cases in Los Alamos County
- 3 new cases in Luna County
- 9 new cases in McKinley County
- 1 new case in Mora County
- 9 new cases in Otero County
- 5 new cases in Quay County
- 2 new cases in Rio Arriba County
- 3 new cases in Roosevelt County
- 23 new cases in Sandoval County
- 16 new cases in San Juan County
- 8 new cases in San Miguel County
- 18 new cases in Santa Fe County
- 1 new case in Socorro County
- 4 new cases in Taos County
- 1 new case in Torrance County
- 1 new case in Union County
- 7 new cases in Valencia County
- A male in his 50s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
- A female in her 60s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
- A male in his 60s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized.
- A female in her 100s from Bernalillo County. The individual had underlying conditions.
- A male in his 70s from Chaves County. The individual was hospitalized.
- A male in his 90s from Luna County. The individual was hospitalized.
- A male in his 80s from Sandoval County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
- A male in his 60s from San Juan County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
- A male in his 80s from San Juan County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
- A male in his 70s from Santa Fe County. The individual had underlying conditions.
County totals are subject to change upon further investigation and determination of residency of individuals positive for COVID-19.
- Bernalillo County: 145,682
- Catron County: 413
- Chaves County: 21,301
- Cibola County: 6,913
- Colfax County: 2,415
- Curry County: 12,521
- De Baca County: 569
- Doña Ana County: 62,525
- Eddy County: 16,974
- Grant County: 6,597
- Guadalupe County: 1,099
- Harding County: 81
- Hidalgo County: 1,085
- Lea County: 19,159
- Lincoln County: 5,167
- Los Alamos County: 2,692
- Luna County: 6,677
- McKinley County: 25,642
- Mora County: 752
- Otero County: 13,293
- Quay County: 1,981
- Rio Arriba County: 9,690
- Roosevelt County: 4,979
- Sandoval County: 33,176
- San Juan County: 40,433
- San Miguel County: 5,748
- Santa Fe County: 27,967
- Sierra County: 2,019
- Socorro County: 3,781
- Taos County: 5,276
- Torrance County: 2,662
- Union County: 779
- Valencia County: 18,415
Cases among people being held by federal agencies
- Cibola County Correctional Center: 550
- Otero County Federal Prison Facility: 620
- Otero County Processing Center: 954
- Torrance County Detention Facility: 445
Cases among people being held by the New Mexico Department of Corrections
- Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 487
- Guadalupe County Correctional Facility: 373
- Lea County Correctional Facility: 933
- Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County: 221
- Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 187
- Otero County Prison Facility: 589
- Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 276
- Roswell Correctional Center: 369
- Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County: 313
- Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County: 271
- Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County: 113
Currently, 91.9% percent of adults 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.2% have completed their primary series; 44.9% of adults 18 years and older have had a booster shot; 12-17-year-old age group: 71.2% of people have had at least one dose and 61.3% have completed their primary series; Children ages 5-11: 38.9% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 30.1% have completed their primary; Santa Fe County: 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 87.1% have completed their primary series.
*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.