December 18, 2020

Guv: Positive signs on COVID-19, including start of vaccinations, but still need to be vigilant


The state of New Mexico announced the most COVID-19 related deaths in a single day on Thursday, 48, continuing the trend of increasing deaths from the respiratory disease.

“We must change this trajectory,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press conference on Thursday. 

She noted that it took 234 days to reach 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, but just 48 days to go from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths. 

“You can see the exponential rate at which infections are occurring, hospitalizations are occurring, people who need ventilators, how that is occurring and how many people we are losing to this deadly virus,” the governor said.

One big concern was for family gatherings at Christmas.

“We expect that this country and New Mexico will, too, that people will get together,” she said. “And it feels like it’s low-risk. And it isn’t.”

She and health officials said they expected an increased number of cases in January, with deaths from those cases likely to follow in late January and early February.

“There will be another spike, is what we’re anticipating. Hopefully I’m wrong,” Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said.

Lujan Grisham said it was difficult to hear but “we have to brace and tell New Mexicans the truth.”

She said that, though she wished she didn’t have to, that she would be participating in a “Zoom Christmas” instead of attending a midnight mass or spending Christmas morning with her grandchildren in person.

“But what I want more than that, is the peace of mind, knowing that my family is safe, that my mother is safe, that I didn’t take this virus to another New Mexican, that it didn’t get somewhere that we know that’s high-risk, that we didn’t create more problems that we solve,” she said.

The governor noted that some indicators, including total cases, have improved in recent weeks. And, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase, said that hospitalizations have held steady after a large rise over the past couple of months.

Still, cases are much higher than they were earlier in the year and Scrase noted that hospitalizations were at 120 percent of capacity.

While overall cases have seen a drop from its high, the full numbers are only available on a six-day lag because of the time it takes to process and report results. And the early indications from the last six days show that the case counts will begin to increase again soon.

The largest bright spot, however, was the first shipment of over 17,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines sent to New Mexico by the federal government.

Those doses were shipped to larger hospitals throughout the state, then from there to smaller facilities, and three pueblos. The other tribal and pueblo governments opted to partner with the federal Indian Health Services for vaccinations.

The first shipment is earmarked for frontline health care workers, though the state doesn’t expect to be able to vaccinate all those who wish to receive the vaccine before the end of the month.

The state expects an additional shipment for Pfizer next week, which Lujan Grisham said could be similar to the size of the first shipment, but will not know the exact size until the federal government begins the shipments. 

“We targeted frontline health care workers first for this week,” Collins said. “We will continue next week with also including other health care workers, and residents and staff at long term care facilities.”

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine passed a key U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel on Thursday and an emergency use authorization approval appears imminent.

That shipment will be earmarked for those at long term care facilities.

Further vaccinations of essential workers, including first responders, would be further down the line. Lujan Grisham noted there are thousands of them and it looks like New Mexico will receive between 15,000 and 20,000 doses per week.

Still, they were hoping to have vaccines available as soon as possible for the general public.

“Our goal is to have every New Mexican who wants a vaccine or whose employer mandates that they get a vaccine gets it timely and quickly,” Lujan Grisham said.

Scrase said he thought that it wouldn’t make much sense to tie further reopenings to criteria related to vaccinations themselves, instead he said that “because the vaccinations themselves will drive down case counts, they will drive down test positivity rates.”

And, as they have before, they noted that getting a vaccination didn’t mean that people would be able to stop using COVID-19 safe practices, because it’s unclear if those who are vaccinated will still be able to spread the disease to others. So they would still need to wear masks, stay socially distanced and wash their hands frequently.