NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – For the past couple of months, New Mexico has seen daily COVID-19 testing numbers drop statewide. In fact, according to the state Department of Health’s gating criteria, daily testing as well as daily case counts are now at their lowest points since June.
Some of the main testing facilities in Albuquerque said they’re not seeing the demand for tests they saw in July and August. But with schools reopening and people starting to travel again, that could all change.
“A drop-off in testing, multifactorial,” said Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department. He recently addressed the drop in statewide daily test numbers during a September 2 webinar.
“To be honest, less of a public demand for testing, access is still there,” Dr. Scrase explained. “We’re doing very well on testing, and no one west of us is doing better,” he added.
According to state data, the first week of September marked the first time since June that the seven-day rolling average for daily COVID-19 tests fell below the state’s goal of 5,000 tests per day.
New Mexico has also seen a drop in daily case counts, with the most recent seven-day rolling average of 111 cases per day, below the state’s goal of 168. The state’s positivity rate is currently at 2.4%.
“It really has trickled down, especially since we made the decision to go from asymptomatic testing to symptomatic testing,” explained Denzil Ross, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO of Lovelace Medical Center. “We’ve seen a very large decrease in the number of persons coming to be tested.”
Ross said Lovelace was testing upwards of 500 people per day back when they offered to test anyone. However, they ran into supply issues, both with PPE and actual test supplies.
These days, Lovelace is administering between 70-100 tests per day. “We want to be thoughtful in the way that we do this because we have no end in sight for COVID,” Ross explained. “We can’t say ‘Hey, at the end of October we’ll be done.'”
The average turn-around for test results at Lovelace is currently 36-48 hours, Ross said. “We’re always looking and talking about different methods, and different options, and ways that we could test and be more efficient and effective,” Ross said.
Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham updated New Mexico’s travel order, stating those who can test negative within 72-hours of entry to New Mexico are exempt from the two-week quarantine. “Persons who have undergone a COVID-19 test shall self-isolate or self-quarantine while awaiting the results of their test,” the order states.
Whether people are doing that, however, is nearly impossible to track. “Honesty is very important,” said Juan Balderas, an Albuquerque resident who said he’s recently traveled out-of-state.
Still, as schools reopen and the demand for testing could go up, health officials say New Mexico is in a good place. “We want to start planning for being in this for the long haul,” Ross explained.
“We want to make sure that we keep ourselves safe, we keep our loved ones safe by taking the necessary measures,” Ross said, encouraging people to follow public health orders.
Currently, Lovelace, Presbyterian, and UNMH are still prioritizing symptomatic people for testing. Lovelace health officials said they won’t turn anyone away if they want to get tested.
Ross said with major hospitals working together, up to this point New Mexico has been able to avoid overloading its medical resources. “I think our ability to really look at this from a statewide standpoint was one of the reasons I think that we were so successful in not seeing the spread of the virus here compared to other states,” said Ross.