New Mexico extends COVID public health emergency through May 16 as positivity rate ticks up
New Mexico extended the statewide public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic through May 16.
Under the public health order, universal masking is required in health care facilities but not in most indoor public spaces any longer. Businesses and other public and private workplaces must continue to report positive cases of COVID-19 to the state Department of Health.
On Tuesday, the department reported that 55 people are in the hospital for COVID, four of them needing ventilators to breathe. It also reported 11 new COVID deaths and 120 new positive cases.
According to DOH data, the counties with the highest test positivity rates in the past two weeks were Curry (7.8%), Los Alamos (7.6%), McKinley (4.4%), Rio Arriba (4%), Santa Fe (4%), Cibola (3.6%), and Lincoln (3.6%).
Overall cases in New Mexico have dropped since March and hospitalizations continue to be low, DOH said in an April 15 news release attached to the new public health order.
However, DOH said during the first two weeks of April, “the new Omicron BA.2 variant makes up 22.1% of cases in New Mexico and continues to expand across the state. N.M. is “trailing behind” the rest of the United States, DOH reports. According to the World Health Organization, the new variant spreads more easily than the original strain of omicron.
While vaccines are effective, they do not stop someone from transmitting coronavirus, nor do they prevent someone from dying of COVID-19 or developing long COVID for weeks or even months after getting infected.
In the release, DOH made the misleading claim that “the vast majority of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths occur among the small number of unvaccinated New Mexicans.”
According to DOH’s own data, 42% of COVID deaths in New Mexico between Feb. 28 and March 28 were breakthrough deaths among people who either had their primary series complete or their primary series and their first booster shot.
That means that 58% of the New Mexicans who died in that time period were unvaccinated.
DOH spokesperson Jodi McGinnis-Porter said the “vast majority” messaging was an oversight and that it should have said, “The majority of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths occur among the small number of unvaccinated New Mexicans.”
Earlier, a different DOH spokesperson, Katy Diffendorfer, told the Santa Fe Reporter, “What was meant was that severe outcomes associated with COVID (including hospitalization / ventilation & death) continue to be largely attributed to unvaccinated individuals.” (original underline)
“While the vaccinated do contract COVID and have breakthrough cases, we are not seeing a rise in hospitalization and death associated with those individuals,” Diffendorfer told the newspaper.
While vaccines are effective at reducing the severity of COVID-19, some public health experts and disability justice advocates are critical of a “vaccine only” approach to the pandemic because it unfairly dismisses preventative measures — like masks and social distancing — and rests on false assumptions about how the virus works.