ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Top New Mexico officials are elated that the state is meeting all of its benchmarks when it comes to addressing the coronavirus pandemic, but they warned Thursday that the recent progress will have to be sustained to clear the way for public health restrictions to be eased and for more of the state to be reopened.
A series of charts and graphs presented during a briefing showed the average daily case counts are below the reopening targets set by the state. The rate of spread, testing and tracing capacities and the number of hospitalizations also are trending downward.
Health officials said all of the factors are linked to public behavior, something Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recognized in a tweet Thursday as she praised residents.
“Your actions are unequivocally saving lives in our state and I am so grateful,” she wrote. “We are winning the fight against this hideous virus — but we have to remember how we got here and the risk of letting our guard down.”
The seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases stands at about 132 as the daily statewide case totals have been declining, health officials said. In all, the state has reported 23,951 infections and 734 deaths. That includes an additional 208 cases Thursday.
The southeast corner of the state continues to be a concern for health officials as that region has the highest seven-day average of daily positive cases of any other area, followed by the more populated region that includes the Albuquerque metropolitan area. They pointed to interstate travel and commerce that links the area with neighboring Texas, where rates have been higher.
The latest data also indicates that poverty is a significant factor for contracting COVID-19 in New Mexico, health officials said.
Human Services Secretary David Scrase and state epidemiologist Chad Smelser said the case totals and other data are only part of the equation as state officials consider whether to reopen more segments of the economy or allow for more in-person classroom time for students.
While a low prevalence rate is key, they acknowledged that studies have shown children often do not learn as well at home and that the state lacks the infrastructure to ensure every student has broadband access for online learning. They also said the socialization that comes with children being in school is also important for development.
“I don’t think the online option forever is a good idea. I think we need to get kids back in the classroom as soon as we possibly can, just to do it safely,” Smelser said.
The discussion about schools came as New Mexico’s largest public school district in Albuquerque opted to extend online instruction through the end of the first semester.
The governor earlier this week expressed hope that most elementary school students will be able to return to classrooms after Labor Day under a hybrid mode.
The Albuquerque district conducted a survey of thousands of parents that found more than 56% of respondents said they were “very uncomfortable” with their children returning to school in person. The survey also found that more than one-third were thinking about switching their children to home schooling.
District officials also said nearly 5,000 teachers and staff have requested to work from home due to health concerns for themselves, students and/or household members.