As it happened: In New Mexico COVID-19 update, state officials say reset 'really did work'
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces she plans to run for second term in 2022
- During the news conference, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declares intent to run for re-election.
SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Human Services Secretary David Scrase led a video news conference Thursday afternoon to provide updates on New Mexico's COVID-19 response.
Earlier in the day, the state Department of Health issued public health orders formally recognizing New Mexico hospitals may now operate under crisis standards of care and barring surgical procedures that are not medically necessary until January.
Watch the video stream of the conference above, and review our live blog below, including hyperlinks to resources for New Mexicans weathering the public health crisis and economic impacts.
3:05 p.m. Gov. Lujan Grisham opens with a Christmas message while also reminding New Mexicans that we are in a "high risk" situation and calls on residents to avoid gathering with non-household members.
1,791 new cases reported today, for a total of 114,731 since March 11. There are 23 new deaths announced today, bringing the total death toll in New Mexico to 1,846.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in New Mexico have dropped by one today, to 916, with 159 on ventilators.
"This is a dramatic number and it is why we have to worker harder ... at minimizing the transmission of COVID," the governor says.
3:10 p.m. "We are serving every New Mexican that needs us," she continues, but says the hospital disposition in the state is "dire."
On the other hand: The seven-day rolling average for test positivity (the number of tests coming back as positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) has sunk from 24 percent on Nov. 24 (before Thanksgiving) to 13 percent as of Dec. 6.
"We are aiming at ... a statewide 5 percent positivity rate," she notes, but this metric seems to be moving in the right direction.
Another metric that measures the rate of community spread has also decreased. The goal is for the figure to be below one. It was 1.3 on Nov. 9 but as of Dec. 6 it declined to 0.79, "a very good indicator," Lujan Grisham says.
This may indicate that the November two-week "reset" of tighter restrictions helped move the state in the right direction, but she is quick to note that the effort must continue. "We really have to keep doing this kind of effort."
She also thinks several New Mexico counties can move into the "yellow" risk category at the next update, which allows more business activity to resume.
COVID-19 county-by-county restrictions:How can we get to green?
3:14 p.m. Hospitals have too many patients for the hospital system to handle, and she calls on New Mexicans to do more to reduce unnecessary travel, including asking employers about telework options; and to be more vigilant about wearing masks.
The health measures are needed to protect healthcare workers, she states, and she also calls on residents to get tested. Testing has been waning, she says, and it's "critical" for resuming business and public schooling.
3:20 p.m. The rule of thumb she suggests is that, as a rule, not going to more than three places outside the household in a day, or fewer if possible, limiting business to work, essential errands or self-care.
An update on vaccine: The first 17,550 doses of the Pfizer vaccine New Mexico will receive may come as early as next week, pending FDA signing off on an emergency use authorization, and will be prioritized for healthcare workers at high to medium risk. Hospitals will be the distribution points.
New Mexico anticipates receiving the Moderna vaccine as well, at an unknown date as yet, and will be prioritized for patients and staff at long-term care facilities.
The distribution network, including how to keep the vaccine cold as required, is in place, the governor says.
It will take several weeks to vaccinate healthcare workers, and essential workers such as childcare and correctional officers, law enforcement, and others, will be next in line early in 2021, she says.
She affirms that despite the speed with which it has been developed, there are no "credibility problems" with the vaccine.
3:24 p.m. $330 million was approved at the special session in pandemic aid, and Lujan Grisham points businesses toward www.NMFinance.com to access $100 million pot of assistance for small businesses. (Applications close Dec. 18.)
$194 million in supplemental unemployment benefits will begin distribution this month in the form of $1,200 checks for people on unemployment. No action is required for those workers.
$15 million in emergency housing support opened for application on Dec. 10, and more information is available at www.HousingNM.org.
3:30 p.m. State Human Services Secretary David Scrase begins his portion with a review of the testing strategy, which is to test broadly so as to identify positive cases before they turn symptomatic in order to locate (through contact tracing) and isolate others who have been exposed (while testing them as well, and so it goes).
The point being: Get the spread rate below 1, which means for every individual who has COVID-19, less than one other person also contracts it, statistically.
Nearly all of New Mexico's 1.7 million tests have been laboratory PCR tests that are highly accurate, Scrase says. He warns that the market is about to be flooded with paper-strip tests may not be as accurate but further evaluations will take place.
3:36 p.m. There may also be at-home testing kits coming on line soon, he adds, though these are also under evaluation.
The key time for isolation is between getting the test and waiting on the result, and so Scrase says the lag is being shortened by labs ramping up testing capacity, including new out-of-state labs.
Scrase also mentions a new program, administered by the state Environment Department, to monitor wastewater at certain congregate facilities such as prisons for signs of increase and decrease of the coronavirus. This could be useful when prevalence is declining as a way to spot new surges in congregate settings.
3:42 p.m. Vaccine penetration sufficient to blunt the prevalence is predicted to take a year, the governor says. Earlier she said that mask wearing in public will have to remain routine for several months or a year even as vaccination rolls out.
Tests are getting simpler and easier, Scrase says, but reiterates the need to rely on testing kits that are accurate.
"I think the reset really did work," he says as he notes a recent decline in daily average cases. Post-Thanksgiving, however, it is trending back upward in all regions of the state, which is very concerning given the state of New Mexico's hospital system.
3:46 p.m. Three New Mexico cities (Roswell, Gallup and Hobbs) remain in the national top 20 cities for COVID-19 prevalence (cases per capita), and the state is 24th among states for prevalence.
There are 12 counties with accelerating growth in cases, representing 570,000 residents, while 206,000 are in a constant-rate county and 1.3 million live in counties with slowing community spread, per data Scrase presents.
3:51 p.m. The hospital loads are a "very dynamic" situation, he says, with some ICU units completely filled with COVID-19 patients.
Based on calling hospitals directly, Scrase says 48 hospital beds in total around the state were filled just last night, to illustrate how quickly the hospital censuses are changing day to day.
He urges residents who have not done so to fill out an official "medical orders for scope of treatment" form making clear what their wishes are if they become incapacitated. Online information and the form are available at www.NMmost.org.
4:05 p.m. Scrase closes with reminders to layer up with defenses, from wearing a mask to avoiding gatherings and maintaining distance from people, and of course, washing hands often.
Today's cases include 26 confirmed among six detention facilities around the state, per the DOH report, which has arrived during the conference.
The authorization for the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by a committee advising the FDA, the governor announces, and that clears the way for the authorization and for delivery to begin.
4:11 p.m. "The other north star," other than saving lives, is getting kids back into their schools, the governor says, again urging residents to follow public health guidance and to get tested.
Addressing the recent speculation about her role in President-elect Biden's administration, Lujan Grisham says that post-Trump there is a need for expertise in cabinet positions and at agencies, but: "I'm staying. I've wanted to stay from the very beginning. ... I can do more supporting this administration in any number of ways."
She declares her plan to run for re-election in 2022.
4:17 p.m. As counties move to less restrictive categories, the governor says restrictions ease on funerals, which currently are defined as mass gatherings and currently capped at five persons in "red" counties (i.e. most of the state).
She expresses sympathy for families in that situation but says the gatherings, noting how cruel it is not to be able to attend a funeral for someone who the disease has taken away, but funeral services, involving crying and singing and hugging typically, present a high risk for transmission of the virus.
4:22 p.m. On vaccinating prisoners, Lujan Grisham says "we must do it," as a population at high risk and in state care, and also calls for lowering the prevalence in communities outside the institutions. "We are still developing" the plan as far as which tranche will allow allocation for inmates and detention facilities in the state.
4:35 p.m. The vaccine rollout will bridge presidential administrations, Lujan Grisham notes, which adds to the logistical and organizational challenges involved.
In the meantime, New Mexico needs to double down on testing, contact tracing and isolating, she says.
COVID-19 is more prevalent among lower-income populations, Scrase observes in a discussion about ZIP codes where the disease is thickest in New Mexico (something that is now included in the DOH's daily report).
"Poverty is ... one of the primary drivers and why we're struggling right now, because we have the third lowest per capita income" in the United States, Scrase says.
4:xx p.m. Looking back on Thanksgiving, Lujan Grisham says the state is still in the window to see surges from that holiday (based on the incubation period for the coronavirus) and the state is "bracing" for a surge after the December holidays.
She faults President Donald Trump's messaging about COVID-19 tests for creating confusion or even discouraging people from getting tested. "Have confidence. Get tested," she says.
Scrase says the "delivery system" (meaning hospital acute care sites) are "absolutely bracing themselves" for a post-holiday surge.
He talks about the lengths hospitals are going to assure that maternity care, baby deliveries, and other non-COVID emergent needs can be served even in the crisis care environment.
But there is a line past which hospitals would not be able to serve everyone, bottom line.
Lujan Grisham uses that to close on a reminder to wear masks, stay home, make some sacrifices to help communities beat down the spread.
"If New Mexicans continue to fight against this virus ... more counties will get yellow and get green," she says, reducing stress on healthcare workers and freeing up space in hospitals again.