August 20, 2020

COVID-19 cases increase, plus officials provide an update on gating criteria

The state Department of Health announced 208 new cases of COVID-19, a second-straight day of increases after reported cases plummeted earlier in the week. The state also announced five additional deaths related to COVID-19.

Also on Thursday, health officials said that New Mexicans shouldn’t expect changes to the state’s current public health order before it is set to expire on August 28. 

The number of cases exceeded 200 newly reported cases for the first time since August 9. Over a quarter of the newly reported cases, 59, came from Bernalillo County. Lea County, which has had among the highest newly reported cases per capita over the past week, reported 27 new cases. Doña Ana County had 23 newly reported cases, while Santa Fe and Chaves counties each had 14 newly reported cases.

However, the number of those hospitalized for COVID-19 dropped to 74—the lowest number since April 9 and a decrease of 20 cases since Wednesday. This could include those from outside the state who are hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19, but would not include New Mexico residents who are hospitalized for the disease out of state.

Health officials identified southeastern New Mexico as a place of concern.

Sparsely populated Quay County, which has fewer than 9,000 residents per the latest U.S. Census estimates, had seven newly reported cases, the most in a single day. The county’s previous record was four, which happened twice—on August 13 and August 16. Nearly two-thirds of the county’s 58 total cases have been reported since August 12.

In total, the state has reported 23,951 cases of COVID-19 and 734 deaths related to the disease.

Three of the five newly reported deaths related to COVID-19 occurred among Bernalillo County residents.

  • A female in her 50s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 70s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions.
  • A male in his 70s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.
  • A female in her 50s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

DOH, as usual, did not identify which underlying condition any of the deceased had, only if one was present.

The number of those deemed recovered reached 11,145, an increase of 169 from Monday’s total.

Health expert updates

Earlier in the day, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase and Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Chad Smelser provided an update on the state’s modeling, and confirmed that the state has reached the gating criteria put forth by the state.

They also explained the difference between the daily numbers the state releases and the numbers used by the state to calculate the gating criteria. 

The state releases the newly reported cases each afternoon. But the numbers that the state uses for its gating criteria are based on the numbers by the date of collection, which are released each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

To avoid confusion, NM Political Report will provide DOH’s averages each Monday, Wednesday and Friday instead of using the daily released numbers.

One question that officials are working on is how long the state should be under the gating criteria before moving on to the next phase or reopening.

“It’s clear that the longer you go meeting all of the gating criteria, the better off you’ll be,” Smelser said. He noted that fourteen days could be a good time frame, since that is the incubation period, but that to stop an outbreak, public health officials typically try to wait two incubation periods. But, he noted, there are other considerations.

“The longer the better, but we also have to take in more factors than just the public health data,” Smelser said.

Other factors like mental health and employment will also be taken into consideration.

While the cases are dropping throughout the state, some counties and areas are showing increased levels

“The real hotspots outside of Bernalillo County are much more in this southeastern region of our state,” Scrase said.

The area, according to Smelser, is highly influenced by Texas.

He pointed out “significant activity in the El Paso region, Midland, Lubbock and Amarillo, which all influence New Mexico.”

And the total number of cases in Texas have “reached somewhat of a plateau, so our southeast region is mimicking that plateau.”

The demographics of who are contracting COVID-19 is also changing. During its peak, the American Indian/Alaska Native population, using the census designated terms, were the most impacted despite their small level percentage of the state’s population. Now, there is an increase in the number of cases among Hispanic and Latino populations as well as the white, non-Hispanic population. 

But the number of cases also grows for those with higher levels of poverty.

This, Smelser said, comes because of many factors, including the fact that those in higher levels of poverty have higher comorbidities, or underlying conditions, tend to live in denser housing—including multigenerational households—and likely need to leave the house to work.

Through contact tracing, the state also said that the top known way that people are contracting COVID-19 is through travel, either in-state or out-of-state. Another significant factor is gatherings, including family gatherings and other social functions.

Thursday testing details

The state coronavirus information page said that the state has reported 694,824 tests as of Thursday, an increase of 6,329 tests over Wednesday.

While the number of tests has dropped, it remains above the state’s goal of 5,000 tests per day on a seven-day rolling average. Scrase said the decrease in tests reported each day come because of equipment shortages, shortages in reagents and some problems with insurance information.

Still, he noted that the state is seeking more supplies whenever possible and that the state received 38,000 pipette tips earlier this week after actions by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The state provided the number of newly reported cases by county.

  • 59 new cases in Bernalillo County
  • 14 new cases in Chaves County
  • 3 new cases in Cibola County
  • 8 new cases in Curry County
  • 23 new cases in Doña Ana County
  • 3 new cases in Eddy County
  • 3 new cases in Grant County
  • 27 new cases in Lea County
  • 1 new case in Lincoln County
  • 4 new cases in Luna County
  • 6 new cases in McKinley County
  • 1 new case in Otero County
  • 7 new cases in Quay County
  • 5 new cases in Rio Arriba County
  • 8 new cases in Roosevelt County
  • 5 new cases in Sandoval County
  • 7 new cases in San Juan County
  • 2 new cases in San Miguel County
  • 14 new cases in Santa Fe County
  • 2 new cases in Sierra County
  • 6 new cases in Valencia County

Additionally, the state provided the total number of reported cases by county, including those from Thursday.

Six previously reported cases—two in Doña Ana County and one in each of Bernalillo, Lea, Sandoval and Taos counties—were identified as duplicates and were removed from the totals.

  • Bernalillo County: 5,474
  • Catron County: 5
  • Chaves County: 581
  • Cibola County: 391
  • Colfax County: 19
  • Curry County: 619
  • Doña Ana County: 2,685
  • Eddy County: 397
  • Grant County: 75
  • Guadalupe County: 32
  • Harding County: 2
  • Hidalgo County: 93
  • Lea County: 991
  • Lincoln County: 161
  • Los Alamos County: 24
  • Luna County: 263
  • McKinley County: 4,141
  • Mora County: 6
  • Otero County: 212
  • Quay County: 58
  • Rio Arriba County: 336
  • Roosevelt County: 185
  • Sandoval County: 1,176
  • San Juan County: 3,123
  • San Miguel County: 58
  • Santa Fe County: 736
  • Sierra County: 36
  • Socorro County: 75
  • Taos County: 115
  • Torrance County: 63
  • Union County: 31
  • Valencia County: 474

DOH reported the following numbers of COVID-19 cases among individuals held by federal agencies at the following facilities:

  • Cibola County Correctional Center: 323
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 280
  • Otero County Processing Center: 159
  • Torrance County Detention Facility: 44

DOH also reported the following numbers of COVID-19 cases among individuals held by the New Mexico Corrections Department at the following facilities:

  • Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 25
  • Lea County Correctional Facility: 4
  • Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County: 1
  • Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 1
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 472
  • Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 1
  • Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County: 4

There are 51 acute care or long-term care facilities with at least one staff or resident who tested positive for the disease within the last 28 days, according to DOH. That is an increase of three facilities since Wednesday.