SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Amid continued concern about the summer spike in COVID-19 cases across New Mexico, the state’s top doctors addressed the latest trends the virus is taking in a nearly two-hour news conference Wednesday afternoon. Among the concerning trends: state leaders believe by the end of August, New Mexico may start registering roughly 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.
The projections come as the state continues to see an increasing trend in the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state. The New Mexico Department of Health’s Epidemiologist Christine Ross said Tuesday the increase in cases “looks similar to what (the state) saw prior to (New Mexico’s) worst surge to date in the winter.” Case counts this week are 10 times higher than they were the first week of July, according to state data.
“It’s the rapid rise that has caught us by surprise and is quite alarming,” said Dr. Ross. “We’re seeing this across the United States and again, we have tools that we can use to flatten that out.”
Along with case counts, state health officials report increasing test positivity rates. New Mexico’s statewide test positivity rate for COVID-19 cases sat around 2.5% on July 8, 2021. It has since increase to roughly 8.7% as of August 9, which is 1.2% above the gating criteria target of 7.5%.
“When we get over that 5 to 7.5% range, we know that our surveillance data just isn’t possibly picking up all of the infections out there,” Dr. Ross said. “So in other words, that statewide epidemiology curve graph I just showed, it would look a lot more dramatic if we were able to test everybody.”
In dealing with an expected rise in cases, Acting Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase also highlighted what he expected for hospitals across the state, particularly in southeast New Mexico. Dr. Scrase called it the “scariest” pandemic modeling he’s seen from the state’s modeling partners at LANL, so far.
“LANL is projecting that we could see over a thousand cases per day just in the southeastern part of the state alone,” Dr. Scrase said. “That’s sort of the worst case scenario, and they are telling us we are on track to be over 1,000 in early September, as well.”
In response to an expected rise in hospitalizations, the state has already restarted it’s single hub that helps coordinate the transferring of patients to medical facilities with open space. Dr. Scrase says the state is also expecting hospitals to face a “serious shortage” of nurses.
“We brought in a number of nurses, many of those temporary nurses are now fighting COVID in Louisiana,” Dr. Scrase said. “This is a call from me to any retired nurses out there, we know you might be older, we know that you might be at higher risk, you know the vaccination should help substantially reduce your risk, and we are going to need more nurses in the state, so just a call out now for nurses to just look for open opportunities and help us all fight back this new variant.”
The update comes a day after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday she’s “incredibly concerned” with the continued spread of the virus. The CDC reports the U.S. is seeing a 40% national increase in cases linked to the more contagious Delta variant. When asked what it would take to bring the state back to further COVID restrictions, the governor said “everything is on the table.”
“We have two significant tools: vaccines and masks,” Governor Lujan Grisham said at a news conference Tuesday morning, calling the “tools” more productive than the prior method of limiting access to activities statewide. “I think some things you should expect shortly is to have more clarification about mask-wearing in the state of New Mexico.”
The governor also said Tuesday the state is going to “talk about more mandatory vaccine partnerships and the opportunity for mandatory vaccines, more so in state government.” Lujan Grisham declined to reveal any further details about what those decisions she might make, but said “it’s coming.”
As of Tuesday, August 10, the state reported 56.5% or 918,247 New Mexicans are considered fully vaccinated, while 62.7% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those fully vaccinated, 68,045 people are ages 12 to 17.