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New Mexico reopens breweries as COVID-19 cases trend upward

Health officials warn reopenings don’t mean coronavirus concerns are over
Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase gives an update about the COVID-19 outbreak in the state as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, left, listens during a news conference in April.

FARMINGTON – The state of New Mexico took a big step toward reopening recently when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced breweries could open with limited occupancy. But the data show COVID-19 cases in the state over the last few weeks are trending upward.

One public health website, COVIDexitstrategy.org, dedicated to tracking how states are reopening, reported a 24% increase in New Mexico’s positive cases in a two-week period in early June. On May 27, the state had moved into the “trending better” category on the tracking website. But a few days later had changed to trending poorly, according to the website. As of Tuesday, the state’s rates had changed to flat.

According to the exit strategy website, Colorado has seen a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases and is making progress as it reopens.

San Juan County continues to have the second highest number of cases in the state, after McKinley County. On Tuesday, the New Mexico Department of Health reported 2,129 positive cases and 151 COVID-related deaths in the county. It also reported 996 of the cases have recovered.

During a news conference last week, Dr. David Scrase, a medical adviser to Lujan Grisham’s administration, said the increase in the average number of daily cases is partially attributable to significant “hot spot” areas, including a COVID-19 outbreak at the Otero County prison facilities in Chaparral, near the New Mexico-Texas border.

“If you took out the hot spots, we’d be looking really good,” he said at the news conference.

Yet, he said the jump in cases could also be a result of the partial reopening of the state and the relaxing of business closures leading to more people interacting than had been in the previous month. The business openings do not mean to disregard social distancing and face coverings in public, he said.

“We need to put the foot on the brake and encourage all of you to stay at home,” he said. “Don’t expand activities.”

Axios, a national digital news site, also reported four states – New Mexico, Arizona, Florida and Oregon – saw an increase of new cases by more than 50% last week.

The increase is not just attributed to the state’s high level of testing for the coronavirus, almost twice as high as that of other states in the Four Corners. Johns Hopkins estimates New Mexico is third-highest for the number of COVID-19 tests administered per capita nationwide.

New Mexico saw an increased positive caseload that outpaced any increase in testing capacity, according to Axios’ tracking data.

The recent spikes in New Mexico and Arizona have also led to increased concerns on the Navajo Nation.

On Tuesday afternoon during a virtual town hall meeting live-streamed on Facebook, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said a surge of cases in Phoenix and other nearby cities and states has been concerning for the Navajo Nation leadership. He announced the return of the reservation’s 57-hour lockdown over the weekend.

He also asked visitors not to travel to or through the Navajo Nation to keep its residents safe from possible exposure. The Navajo Nation, sharing borders with New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, said it has seen a slowing of the virus and would like to prevent a future spike in cases.

The Navajo Nation said Tuesday morning it saw one of its lowest single-day number of cases since March. The Navajo Nation Department of Health and partner health organizations reported 22 new cases and no new deaths since Saturday. Indian Health Services officials estimate about a quarter of the population has been tested, or about 44,589 individuals.

lweber@durangoherald.com

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