COVID surges in ten New Mexico counties ahead of July 4th weekend
As the second holiday weekend in two weeks arrives, New Mexicans face fresh challenges calculating COVID-19 risk. By CDC standards, New Mexico has a surge of cases higher than last summer, without a mask mandate, managed by an understaffed Department of Health that provides irregular updates as hospitalizations and deaths increase. The last press briefing on June 8 came three months after an acknowledgment of the 2-year "anniversary" of COVID-19's arrival in New Mexico on March 11, 2020.
Janeth Nuñez del Prado pays close attention to daily case numbers since losing her father to COVID-19. She represents Marked by COVID in New Mexico. It’s a national advocacy group.
"I mean, the pandemic hit us hard in New Mexico, we've lost almost 8000 people, and this is almost certainly an underestimate," said Nuñez del Prado.
Acting Secretary of Health, Dr David Scrase, said as much during a press briefing in June. He estimated that for every reported confirmed test, there's at least three to seven additional people who also have COVID. Some estimates state COVID is 30 times higher than reported.
That makes it difficult to calculate risk heading into a national holiday weekend. Last July 4th, 77 New Mexicans were in the hospital with COVID-19 and the daily case average was below 100. This July 4th weekend there are almost 200 people in the hospital and the daily case average is 10 times higher (over 1000/daily) Last week alone, deaths increased 23% compared to the previous week. As of July 1, 2022, 7,941 New Mexicans died from COVID-19.
DOH told KUNM that it is also understaffed: Of 338 total positions in the Epidemiology Division, 94 are currently vacant, including the State Epidemiologist. Dr. Christine Ross leaves July 10 to "spend the summer with her family," according to Dr. Scrase at the June briefing. No replacement has been named. The date for the next DOH update is not set, but mid-July is likely according to a spokesperson. Those updates are available to the public live and archived on the NMDOH Facebook page that includes other NMDOH advisories.
In ten New Mexican counties, including San Juan and the state’s most populous, Bernalillo, the CDC states community levels are "High" and all people in such counties should wear an N95 mask indoors. According to DOH, one out of three New Mexicans are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and their community should take additional precautions. One out of five of those with COVID-19 may develop Long COVID symptoms, making them “at risk” for severe illness from future infections.