Shortly before noon on March 11, 2020, the New Mexico Department of Health announced a public health emergency for the growing spread of COVID-19. The same day, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic. In New Mexico, the governor and health officials held an in-person press conference in the Roundhouse, with reporters in the room. “If you are sick, stay home. Wash your hands, use antibacterial [soap],” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
Health officials spoke on Wednesday during a press conference about the rollout of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a new emphasis on certain areas of the state for new doses and even the decision by Texas’ governor to end that state’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions. This came ahead of the state announcing 359 new cases of COVID-19 and thirteen additional deaths related to the disease. Nearly 40 of the new cases, 37, were among inmates of the Lea County Correctional Facility, which has seen hundreds of new cases in the last few days. Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins said the state received 17,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but would receive few, if any, vaccines in the coming weeks until the company can manufacture more doses. While she did not have the names of the counties available immediately, she said that the vaccines would be sent to ten counties with low vaccine coverage and high ratings on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top state health officials had optimistic news related to the state’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution, during a remote press conference on Thursday. The press conference came just a day after the state eased restrictions for counties in the yellow and green levels as well as adding another level, turquoise, which would allow even less restrictive COVID rules. Related: State updates ‘Red-to-Green’ framework, including adding a ‘Turquoise’ level
“We are on the road to recovery,” Lujan Grisham said in a press conference on Thursday. “And this is exactly where we deserve to be, given our hard work.”
The state also recently celebrated administering 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and remains one of the highest performing states in the nation when it comes to administering COVID-19. The average number of daily cases continues to fall, though a health official cautioned that reopening could cause that decrease to slow down.
State health officials continued to express optimism over the trend of COVID-19 and vaccinations in the state, announcing that the state had administered over 450,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, including nearly 145,000 who have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The vaccination rate of 7 percent, Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said, was the third-highest of any state in the country. It is also double the state’s rate from two weeks ago. “We’re focusing on vulnerable populations and communities moving forward,” Collins said. The state is still vaccinating those in the 1A and first two subphases of 1B groups, with an emphasis on those in 1A.
COVID-19 related restrictions will be eased in many parts of the state, as the number of cases continues to drop, with more than half of all counties improving out of the “red” level of restrictions. Additionally, the state announced that it would no longer require a self-quarantine for those who visit New Mexico from “high-risk” states, but will still strongly advise those who arrive from states with a five percent positivity rate or a positive test rate of over 80 people per 1 million residents. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and two cabinet officials spoke about the positive news in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s always more fun to do these press conferences when the news is good and the news remains good,” state Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. “I’m very excited about our progress, you should be too,” Lujan Grisham said.
Although cases of COVID-19 dropped due to what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham calls the “reset,” she encouraged the state to “stay the course” through the holidays. New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase, who joined Lujan Grisham remotely for the press conference aired over social media Wednesday, said the “reset really did work.”
“We flattened the curve. It got flat. We know the reset helped a great deal and Thanksgiving helped because people were less mobile,” he said. But, Scrase said, the state is seeing an uptick, which he called “worrisome.”
“We cannot take on another 100 patients at this point in time.
New Mexico has a record-breaking 1,007 individuals in the hospital, according to New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase. Scrase provided that number during a webinar Tuesday to discuss more in-depth the crisis standard of care. The state experienced technical difficulties, which meant that the event was not aired live over social platforms and that the state could not provide its daily update on additional COVID-19 cases and deaths. Scrase said the state will officially go into the crisis standard of care at hospitals before the end of the month. “In terms of timing, we’re here today because it could be very soon.
During a weekly news conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about COVID-19, the governor covered the usual topics and encouraged people to stay home and wear masks.
But likely the biggest news was that Lujan Grisham has a date planned for a special legislative session.
“I’m happy to announce right now that the special session I will call, will be called for this coming Tuesday right before Thanksgiving,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve spent the last several days working with legislators, both chambers, both sides of the aisle, to work on those details.”
Lujan Grisham’s office announced last week that she planned on calling on legislators to meet and arrange for extra financial support for New Mexicans.
During this week’s news conference, Lujan Grisham said she wants to see $300 million from the New Mexico CARES Act go to unemployment benefits, housing grants and grants for small businesses that have been impacted by the public health order.
“We want to get this relief out to New Mexicans. They need unemployment, they need housing assistance and businesses need grants,” Lujan Grisham said. That gives us a day to get the processes well underway on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that the Monday when we get back we’re pushing money out the door. It’s critical that we do that.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, New Mexico is also seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during an online press conference on Thursday that the state is in “an extreme crisis” for the respiratory illness that has claimed the lives of over 235,000 nationwide and 1,082 in the state. And she said it is already too late to “prevent the pain that is coming to our first responders and our health care workers,” later this month. During Lujan Grisham’s press conference, state Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase likened the situation to what happened in Italy in March, when the hospital system in that country was so overwhelmed, hospital workers had to limit care. “We’re preparing institutions for an Italy-like situation over the next couple of weeks,” Scrase said. Lujan Grisham did not declare any new public health orders limiting travel or businesses, saying she wanted more time to look at the data.
If residents across the state do not change their behavior, hospitals will be so overwhelmed by mid-November from COVID-19 patients, hospitals will have to set up “MASH” like tents in parking lots and share ventilators between patients. The state’s Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase and two guests, Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer for Christus St. Vincent Health System in Santa Fe, said that during an online press conference Thursday. Thursday afternoon, after the press conference, the state reported a record number of new cases and another record number of hospitalizations for COVID-19. Mitchell said the state is at “a pivotal point.”
Related: Heads of NM hospitals: Now is the time for New Mexicans to buckle down
If the cases of COVID-19 continue to increase at the current rate, the number of needed hospital beds will rise above the state’s 439 ICU beds, Mitchell said.