New Mexico governor sees light at the end of pandemic tunnel
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top public health officials pointed Thursday to a recent bump in COVID-19 cases and stressed that more people need to get tested so the state can quickly identify where outbreaks are happening as they try to curb the spread of the virus.
However, the governor also said during an online briefing Thursday that she’s optimistic given that the rate of positive tests is much lower than it was just a couple months ago when New Mexico saw a dramatic spike. She also noted the state’s progress with vaccine distribution.
“We absolutely can see light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel. It’s there. I can see it,” she said. “It’s brighter and clearer every day. The way to the other side of this pandemic is absolutely these treatments and vaccines, and I am very enthusiastic about the number of New Mexicans who are not only registering but are clearly wanting to take vaccine.”
So far, more than 412,000 people — nearly one-fifth of New Mexico’s population — have registered on a state website that was created to help manage the distribution of shots by notifying people when they are eligible and helping with scheduling. It’s the only type of COVID-19 vaccine registration program of its kind in the nation.
So far, more than 100,000 doses out of the 153,000 that have been shipped to the state have been administered, according to the state’s new public vaccine dashboard. Over one-third of those were administered within the last week.
State officials said they are working on adding more providers to the list of those that can administer shots and that the limiting factor in speeding up vaccination across the state will be the supply. They noted that they are expecting more vaccines to be available in the coming weeks as the federal government plans to base allocations partly on how successful states have been in administering those already provided, rather than only on population.
State Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said her agency also is looking at recent recommendations that eligibility be expanded to include people age 65 and older. However, she said the state’s goal right now is to finish vaccinating the health care workforce and concentrate on those who are most vulnerable.
New Mexico’s current vaccination phase includes those 75 and older and anyone over 16 who is considered to be at greater risk because they have cancer, kidney disease, heart problems or other chronic illnesses. Front-line essential workers like grocery store employees and educators who can’t work remotely also are on the list.
Health officials said they are aiming to offer the vaccine more widely to the general public by mid-2021.
New Mexico has recorded more than 160,500 confirmed COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, with an additional 1,434 cases being reported Thursday. Deaths now total 2,836, with a Bernalillo County woman in her 30s being among the 29 fatalities added to the count Thursday.
Officials said while hospitalizations remain down, they are concerned that any increase in cases will again overwhelm the health care system. They noted that half of the state’s hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.
Dr. David Scrase, head of the state Human Services Department, said mobility among residents is partly to blame for the current spread. State data showed only a minimal drop in travel within the state over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, unlike the significant drop that was seen around Thanksgiving.
“We believe that’s why we’re seeing the uptick in cases — just more people out, more people spending time with each other, perhaps giving the virus more opportunities to spread,” Scrase said, “and the virus is really good at taking advantage of any opportunity it gets to spread from one person to another.”