ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New state data shows New Mexico is meeting all of the gating criteria needed to move toward the next steps of reopening. However, top state officials don’t expect to take those steps immediately.
Presenting updated COVID-19 information in a web conference Thursday, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said New Mexico has a spread rate of less than 1.05 and a seven-day rolling average of fewer than 168 new cases per day. The state is also meeting all criteria for testing capacity, contract tracing, and metrics associated with statewide health care system capacity.
“Green bars, all around, all eight measures, you have absolutely no idea how gratifying this is to Dr. Smelser and I,” Dr. Scrase said. “You have no idea how grateful we are to the people of New Mexico because there’s not a single one of these measures that isn’t heavily influenced by the behavior of folks in New Mexico.”
Despite that gating criteria victory, the state is still weighing factors like schools restarting, an upcoming flu season and lessons learned from the state’s June reopening that was followed with a case spike. With that, state health officials remain cautious about what New Mexico could reopen next. “There’s a lot of activity, a lot of planning, trying to understand what we can do have a little bit more freedom without increased risk we experienced so profoundly last time,” Dr. Scrase said.
New Mexico’s current public health order expires on August 28. Thursday, Dr. Scrase said he doesn’t expect any changes to the current health order before then.
An estimated 330,000 school-aged children and teens are expected to return to New Mexico schools sometime after Labor Day under hybrid learning models. A bi-weekly hybrid school plan would split students time between distance learning and in-person teaching. On Wednesday, Aug. 19, the Albuquerque Public Schools school board voted to extend distance learning through the end of the semester. This means APS students will not return to the classroom after Labor Day.
KRQE News 13 asked state health experts Thursday if they prefer for all-online learning to continue to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Scrase said while he isn’t the person to make that decision, he says state education leaders have made it clear that distance learning isn’t a good longterm option.
“All distance learning sacrifices a number of important issues related to socialization, quality of learning, and all of the material you learn,” Dr. Scrase said. “So I am not one of those people who backs an all distance learning approach because I think there are other factors.”
The state anticipates reopening classrooms will result increased new COVID cases. With lower COVID-19 case numbers, health officials hope the state has built enough of a buffer to keep spread rates low and kids in class once they go back, especially ahead of flu season.
“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for people to get immunized against influenza this year,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, acting state epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health. “Clearly, every year we have an epidemic in the state of influenza, some are worse than other, but 50% coverage rate for vaccine is not enough.”
The state’s goal is for two-thirds of New Mexicans to get flu shots this year, but they say 90% coverage would be ideal.
Southeast New Mexico also remains a continued concern for the state. The Department of Health says the daily number of new positive cases is too high for the region’s population. Since the beginning of June, DOH data shows the region has an average between 40 and 60 new COVID-19 cases.