NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As New Mexico sees a surge of coronavirus cases, more cases are also showing up in nursing homes. KRQE News 13 asked the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department whether safety measures put in place to protect those vulnerable populations are working.

“There’s not a way to eliminate every risk, because they have caregivers that are from the community,” explained Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Cabinet Secretary for the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

Hotrum-Lopez explained as COVID-19 spreads through communities, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities across the state are seeing more cases as well. “We’re worried about those increases because they directly impact the care and the outcome for these residents,” she said.

“It’s really attached to the community spread, and that is true,” said Hotrum-Lopez. “Because residents, for the most part, aren’t leaving those facilities, and so it’s coming in from the outside.”

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, more than 70 of the state’s nursing home and long-term care facilities reported at least one positive COVID-19 case to the state in the last month.

While nursing home deaths from COVID-19 have gone down since May, the state is seeing record numbers of hospitalizations. The state’s latest epidemiology report shows more than 17% of patients hospitalized in New Mexico from COVID-19 have died.

The report states more than 50% of people currently hospitalized are between 35 to 64-years-old. “The character of the mortality of this disease is changing – is driven by high, high numbers of younger people now,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the state’s Human Services Department, during an October 29 webinar.

State guidelines show nursing home staff in hot spots, or counties with higher than 10% test positivity rates, must test staff twice a week. Strict safety measures are in place inside facilities, but Hotrum-Lopez is also urging the public to follow COVID-19 safety measures, such as social distancing, washing hands, and limiting outings.

“It really matters what the public does because you don’t know when you’re gonna come across a person that goes and visits a loved one in a nursing home, or actually takes care of one,” Hotrum-Lopez said.

New Mexico currently ranks 32nd in the nation for the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in nursing home facilities. Wyoming has the fewest per 1,000 residents, and New Jersey reports the highest.

Slide from the state’s Aging & Long-Term Services Dept.