SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Cabinet secretaries from the New Mexico Department of Health, Human Services Department, Children, Youth & Families Department, and the Aging & Long-Term Services Department took a look at how far New Mexico has come one year after the state’s first confirmed COVID case. State leaders gave an update on where the state stands today and where we’re headed.
The Secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department highlighted the day’s COVID-19 numbers. One-hundred-and-thirty patients are currently in the hospital, with 31 of those on ventilators. Overall, the news on the coronavirus was positive with Dr. Scrase describing the state’s daily case rate as in a plateau on a downslope.
Dr. Tracie Collins, the Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, gave an update on New Mexico’s progress in administering vaccines. She said New Mexico is leading the country in shots in arms with 26.3% of New Mexicans with at least the first dose of the vaccine and around 15% being fully vaccinated.
The main focus of the press conference was a question and answer session from New Mexico officials, reflecting on an entire year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Secretary of the Aging & Long Term Services Department remembers the feeling of uncertainty from last year. “Early on, we felt panic. We had to build systems as we were making decisions,” Hotrum-Lopez said.
Dr. Scrase remembers the hardest day for him was December 14, 2020. He remembers a shortage of hospital and ICU beds and the Medical Advisory Team worked hard to figure out a way to get beds to patients and pulled together delivery systems.
New Mexico officials reflected on the impact the coronavirus had on the state’s effectiveness in dealing with a public health crisis. Secretary of Children, Youth, and Families Department Brian Blalock remarked on how important technology has been during the pandemic. “It’s hard to believe that a year ago today, [there was] 0% telework, and [we] didn’t even have the technological capabilities for folks to do that. Now we have over 80% that are teleworking,” Blalock said.
Looking towards how the state will continue to tackle COVID-19, officials feel during 2020, they learned a great deal on how to help New Mexicans. CYFD began a texting service in December for youth to report abuse. Dr. Collins feels the pandemic highlighted the state’s inequities.
In remembering the governor’s first press conference, Sec. Hotrum-Lopez remembered things were going to get bad – considering what had been happening throughout the country and the world. Dr. Scrase remembers feeling things were going to be a lot worse than they actually were. Dr. Scrase continued in answering a question regarding how the state can avoid another shut down: “Keep on keeping on,” Dr. Scrase said.
The New Mexico secretaries feel good about where the state stands with vaccines and variants. “The third [round of the] vaccine will be finished by the end of March and actually, we are trying to speed up that timeline to have that done within a week and a half,” said Sec. Hotrum-Lopez.
Dr. Scrase feels like it’s deja vu considering the different variants of COVID-19. “The real issue is not whether we have variants or not because we’ve had them since the beginning, the issue is ‘is this one of the variants that will be more resistant to treatment,” Dr. Scrase said.
Mental health during the pandemic was also addressed in the press conference. Dr. Scrase praised the state’s efforts in getting telemedicine up and running. “Our Medicaid program is the first in the country to get a waiver to allow payment for telemedicine. We did not see the drop that everywhere in the world had seen in behavioral health visits,” said Dr. Scrase.
Overall, the New Mexico team is grateful for the people they get to work with and the efforts they put forth during the past year. Secretary of Early Childhood Education and Care Department Elizabeth Groginsky said her team had to check with schools and health care centers on whether or not they had the proper supplies during the early days. “I have to give a shoutout to the ECECD team who stood up a brand new cabinet-level agency in the midst of the pandemic and all the time kept their eye on the needs of the families and children,” Sec. Groginsky said.