DOH Secretary: Hospitals Still in Crisis, NM Mask Mandate Remains – Santa Fe Reporter

With COVID-19 cases on the decline, various states this week announced plans to rescind their mask mandates, some this week (New York), some next week (California) and others later this month and into March.

Not New Mexico. At least not yet.

In a weekly COVID-19 briefing this afternoon, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase acknowledged his email on Tuesday had been “brimming” with “demands” for the state to eliminate its mask mandate, which is in place at least until March 4 under the state’s current public health order. In response, Scrase provided a “fact check” that clarified some of the states in the news won’t actually rescind their mask mandates until the end of March.

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COVID-19 Update

More to the point, he noted, New Mexico hospital leaders aren’t asking for an end to the mask mandate and the state’s hospitals remain under crisis standards of care, an order that will be renewed this week.

“We don’t really make decisions in New Mexico for New Mexicans based on what other people are doing in other states,” he said. “No one wants to end it more than I do, but we have to use the science and the data we have for New Mexico.”

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COVID-19 Update

Scrase also reiterated the state’s reliance on studies that show masks’ effectiveness at preventing COVID-19, all of which is available online through the Medical Advisory Team’s web page. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also told Reuters this week that with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations still high in the US, “now is not the moment” to drop mask mandates in either schools or other indoor places.

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COVID-19 Update

The CDC mask guidance recommends mask use—even for those fully vaccinated—in areas with substantial or high transmission. According to the New Mexico Health Department’s most recent report on community transmission, the entire state remains red, aka, has high transmission. Walensky also said there is no specific benchmark or metric that would trigger a change in guidance, telling CNN, “I don’t necessarily look at a magic number. What I do think is a really important barometer is how our hospitals are doing.”

Scrase said about the same today, noting that the state would need to see a “softening” of metrics such as the number of available hospital and intensive care beds, as well as a decreased reliance on the more than 1,500 health care workers the state and Albuquerque hospitals have brought in to help “keep our hospitals open.”

As for the current health order’s current March 4 expiration date, Scrase said he and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had discussed it early Wednesday morning. “We really are relying on New Mexico data,” he said. “The pressure in the hospitals is severe and I think we’re just going to have to look at the data and see. I know [Education Secretary] Kurt Steinhaus, I know myself, I know the governor, we all really want to stop the mask mandate. But masks are effective, the state is still in hot water, and we don’t really want to do that until we feel everyone will be safe. I can’t tell you a day. But as soon as we feel like we’re getting to that day, we’re going to let everybody know. It’s just too soon today.”

As for today, New Mexico health officials reported 1,844 new COVID-19 cases, an approximate 31% increase from yesterday. The new cases bring the statewide total so far to 497,570; DOH has designated 366,955 of those cases as recovered.

The statewide test positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average declined slightly from 20.4% to 19.8%, although Scrase said today the test positivity rate is no longer a meaningful data point given the preponderance of home testing, and that there is no specific target in place, just lower is better. The health department has added the capacity for New Mexicans to self-report positive COVID-19 tests.

Bernalillo County had 475 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 275 and Sandoval County with 153. Santa Fe County had 98 new cases.

According to a revamped weekly vaccine report, between Feb. 1-7, 63.3% of COVID-19 cases were among people who had not completed a primary vaccination series; 28.7% were among those who had completed the series but had not received a booster; and 8% of breakthrough cases were among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. As for hospitalizations, 81.3% were among those who did not start or complete a vaccination series; 16.4% were for those who had completed their primary series but were un-boosted; and 2.3% of hospitalizations were among people who were fully vaccinated and boosted. Those percentages shift to 88.5%, 10.9% and 0.7% for fatalities.

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Feb. 7 Vaccination Report This week, after an inquiry from SFR, DOH began reporting breakthrough cases to include breakthrough cases among people with COVID-19 booster shots.

The state also reported 36 additional deaths, 33 of them recent, including two from Santa Fe County: a male in his 70s who had underlying conditions and a female in her 80s who had been hospitalized. Santa Fe County has now had 239 fatalities; there have been 6,597 statewide. As of today, 569 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 24 fewer than yesterday.

Currently, 91.5% percent of adults 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 77.5% have completed their primary series. Among the same demographic, 42.8% have had a booster shot and 63.7% of all eligible New Mexicans have received one (with a breakdown viewable in the slide below). In the 12-17-year-old age group, 70.5% of people have had at least one dose and 60% have completed their primary series. Among children ages 5-11, 36.8% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 26.2% have completed their primary series. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86.5% have completed their primary series.

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COVID-19 Update

Scrase said the state is readying for the Pfizer vaccine for children 6 months through 4 years old, following Pfizer and BioNTech submitting at the start of the month an application to the Food and Drug Administration for rolling emergency authorization.

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COVID-19 Update

Scrase also reinforced a push for New Mexicans to keep rapid antigen COVID-19 tests on hand at home. You can order free at-home COVID-19 tests here and find other testing options at findatestnm.org. New Mexicans living in ZIP codes disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible for five free tests through Accesscovidtest.org. The health department is offering drive-through PCR testing through Feb. 21; to find an appointment (recommended only for people with symptoms), register here.

The state also is encouraging people who test positive for COVID-19 to seek treatments. In a news release issued today, DOH said in the last two weeks, less than 19% of the state’s oral treatments—Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+) had been used. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

“I think we are about to enter a transition,” Scrase said in conclusion of today’s news conference. “Our modeling team believes we will see a fall in cases soon, although this is a hard time to model because Omicron has not behaved like any of the other variants…so it’s hard to use past experiences to predict, but I think there is a general sense we will be on a downhill curve and as that happens, we look forward to easing things up. Believe me, the governor and I and everyone is just as eager as we could be to not have mandates. But we want to protect kids, the vulnerable and our hospitals right now. As soon as we get out of this, I think you’ll see a lot more change coming down the road…as our data we have on New Mexicans and not people in other states tells us the time is right.”

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COVID-19 Update

New cases

  • 475 new cases in Bernalillo County
  • 37 new cases in Chaves County
  • 21 new cases in Cibola County
  • 15 new cases in Colfax County
  • 32 new cases in Curry County
  • 5 new cases in De Baca County
  • 275 new cases in Doña Ana County
  • 65 new cases in Eddy County
  • 55 new cases in Grant County
  • 6 new cases in Guadalupe County
  • 7 new cases in Hidalgo County
  • 38 new cases in Lea County
  • 30 new cases in Lincoln County
  • 12 new cases in Los Alamos County
  • 12 new cases in Luna County
  • 76 new cases in McKinley County
  • 1 new case in Mora County
  • 90 new cases in Otero County
  • 3 new cases in Quay County
  • 50 new cases in Rio Arriba County
  • 26 new cases in Roosevelt County
  • 153 new cases in Sandoval County
  • 128 new cases in San Juan County
  • 27 new cases in San Miguel County
  • 98 new cases in Santa Fe County
  • 5 new cases in Sierra County
  • 25 new cases in Socorro County
  • 14 new cases in Taos County
  • 5 new cases in Torrance County
  • 1 new case in Union County
  • 55 new cases in Valencia County
  • 1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County
  • 1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility

New fatalities

  • A male in his 60s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A second male in his 70s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A third male in his 70s from Bernalillo County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A second male in his 80s from Bernalillo County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 90s from Bernalillo County.
  • A male in his 90s from Bernalillo County. The individual was a resident of the Bear Canyon Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque.
  • A female in her 40s from Chaves County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 80s from Chaves County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A male in his 70s from Cibola County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A female in her 80s from Cibola County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 80s from Doña Ana County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 90s from Eddy County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A male in his 80s from Hidalgo County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A female in her 60s from Lea County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from Lincoln County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A female in her 80s from McKinley County. The individual was a resident of the Genesis McKinley Care Center in Gallup.
  • A female in her 80s from Otero County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A male in his 90s from Otero County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A female in her 60s from Quay County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from Quay County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 80s from Quay County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. The individual was a resident of the Sunshine Assisted Living in Tucumcari.
  • A male in his 80s from Sandoval County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from San Juan County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A second male in his 70s from San Juan County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 80s from San Juan County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 80s from San Juan County. The individual had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Genesis San Juan Center in Farmington.
  • A male in his 70s from Santa Fe County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 80s from Santa Fe County. The individual was hospitalized.
  • A female in her 60s from Valencia County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 70s from Valencia County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

Newly reported fatalities from more than 30 days ago

  • A male in his 80s from Chaves County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from Doña Ana County. The individual had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 60s from Lea County. The individual was hospitalized.

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:

  • Albuquerque Grand
  • Albuquerque Heights Healthcare And Rehabilitation
  • Amaran Assisted Living
  • Artesia Healthcare
  • Aspen Ridge Lodge
  • Atria Vista Del Rio
  • Avamere Rio Rancho
  • Bear Canyon
  • Beehive Homes Clovis
  • Beehive Homes Of Edgewood
  • Beehive Homes Of Farmington #2
  • Beehive Homes, Alamogordo
  • Beehive San Pedro Building B
  • Beehive San Pedro Building D
  • Bloomfield Nursing And Rehabilitation Center
  • Blue Horizon Assisted Living
  • Bridge Of Farmington
  • Casa Del Sol
  • Casa Maria Healthcare Center And Pecos Valley Rehab
  • Clayton Nursing Home
  • Clovis Healthcare
  • Desert Gardens
  • Desert Peaks Assisted Living And Memory Care
  • Fort Bayard Medical Center
  • Genesis Silver City Care Center
  • Good Life Senior Living & Memory Care, Los Lentes
  • Good Samaritan Betty Dare
  • Good Samaritan Las Cruces
  • Lakeview Christian Home
  • Las Palomas
  • Lifecare Farmington
  • Mission Arch Center
  • Neighborhood In Rio Rancho (The)
  • New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute (Meadows)
  • Odeila Healthcare
  • Princeton Place
  • Red Rocks Care Center
  • Retreat Gardens
  • Rio Rancho Center
  • Rio Vista
  • San Juan Center
  • Sandia View Cotton Wood
  • St Anthonys
  • Sunset Villa
  • Sunshine Assisted Living
  • The Rehabilitation Center Of Albuquerque
  • The Rio At Las Estancias
  • Uptown Rehab
  • Watermark At Cherry Hills
  • White Sands Healthcare
  • Woodmark At Uptown

Statewide cases

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

  • Bernalillo County: 140,275
  • Catron County: 387
  • Chaves County: 20,986
  • Cibola County: 6,541
  • Colfax County: 2,315
  • Curry County: 12,196
  • De Baca County: 546
  • Doña Ana County: 60,788
  • Eddy County: 16,692
  • Grant County: 6,247
  • Guadalupe County: 1,034
  • Harding County: 74
  • Hidalgo County: 1,029
  • Lea County: 18,918
  • Lincoln County: 5,026
  • Los Alamos County: 2,489
  • Luna County: 6,450
  • McKinley County: 24,827
  • Mora County: 719
  • Otero County: 12,874
  • Quay County: 1,938
  • Rio Arriba County: 9,519
  • Roosevelt County: 4,838
  • Sandoval County: 31,697
  • San Juan County: 38,934
  • San Miguel County: 5,418
  • Santa Fe County: 26,778
  • Sierra County: 1,943
  • Socorro County: 3,688
  • Taos County: 5,094
  • Torrance County: 2,549
  • Union County: 745
  • Valencia County: 17,703

Cases among people being held by federal agencies

  • Cibola County Correctional Center: 538
  • Otero County Federal Prison Facility: 605
  • Otero County Processing Center: 882
  • Torrance County Detention Facility: 386

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

  • Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 459
  • Guadalupe County Correctional Facility: 260
  • Lea County Correctional Facility: 896
  • Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County: 219
  • Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 187
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 588
  • Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 260
  • Roswell Correctional Center: 368
  • Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County: 294
  • Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County: 271
  • Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County: 100

*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.