September 30, 2020

Health official urges New Mexicans to abide by state health guidelines to slow COVID-19 spread

Human Services Director David Scrase goes over the latest data for New Mexico on Thursday at the Capitol during a news conference covering the state’s COVID-19 response.

If all New Mexico residents and workplaces follow the guidelines in the state’s public health orders, there would be no need to impose further restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said on Monday. 

This comes as the state sees an increase in the number of confirmed cases in the state and other metrics tracked by the state move in the wrong direction.

In an update on the tagging criteria by the state, Scrase said that he expects the state will be outside its gating criteria for the daily number of confirmed cases—and the state remains above its gating criteria for spread rate.

“That trend is headed upwards,” Scrase said of the daily number of cases. “And today’s counts are going to bring those counts up as well.”

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported 178 new cases of COVID-19. The state uses the date of specimen collection for its gating criteria, which differs from the date cases are reported. 

The numbers the state used for its gating criteria show that there are 152 daily cases, as of Sept. 23. The state hopes to stay under 168 cases per day.

The positivity rate also increased to 2.98 percent as of Sept. 27. That’s the percentage of positive tests from total tests.

Scrase said that state labs can turn around tests in about six hours, while TriCore turns around tests in 24 hours. But results tested at other labs, including out-of-state, can take longer to report their results. 

Scrase said the upward trend likely indicates a “rebound” trend from Labor Day. And large gatherings and travel continued to be the two top activities people with COVID-19 have said they took part in in the two weeks before testing positive for the disease.

“We have a three-to-five week lag on whatever happens to seeing a surge like this happen,” Scrase said, mentioning previous increases after Memorial Day and the 4th of July.

“I would prefer not to continue on this rollercoaster,” Scrase said. “I’d prefer to allow folks to respond in New Mexico, to stay at home, to wear those masks, to keep those distances, stay within the public health guidelines. I think everything we need to do right now could be accomplished if 100 percent of us followed the public health guidelines.”

New Mexico continues to excel at testing, though.

The state is at 6,117 tests per day, as of Sept. 27, and new data showed that about a quarter of residents in the state have been tested and that the average person who has been tested has been tested 1.8 times.

The state does not recommend antibody testing for diagnosis because “we don’t feel we have good clinical data that it is reliable,” Scrase said.

Behavioral health surge

The state of New Mexico is readying itself for a “surge” in demand for behavioral health services, Scrase said.

Dr. Neal Bowen, the director of HSD’s behavioral health division, said that the state’s early adoption of behavioral health through telemedicine will help the state headline the increased need.

Mental health problems have increased during the pandemic, including anxiety, suicidal ideation and more. 

“Don’t delay your care, that’s really important for behavioral health,” Bowen said.

He also noted that substance use disorder can also be a problem.. And substance use disorder can lead to worse results for those with COVID-19, as it can with many other health problems.

“The youth seem to be having more difficulty,” Bowen said, referring to those aged 18-34. They are showing more symptoms of potential behavioral health problems, like trouble sleeping, headaches, the urge to smoke or to get drunk.

Still, he said New Mexico’s aggressive expansion of telehealth for behavioral health has put New Mexico in a good position to address behavioral health problems.