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New Mexico urges caution for holidays amid virus threat

Medical personnel test people for the coronavirus in 2020 in Albuquerque. New Mexico health officials on Wednesday warned that COVID-19 transmission rates remain high across the state. (Associated Press file)

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico health officials on Wednesday warned that COVID-19 transmission rates remain high across the state and they urged people to be cautious over the holiday weekend, acknowledging that the public will need to learn to live with the virus and take action to reduce risks for older people.

The warning comes as workplace safety regulators are investigating the death of a third employee of Santa Fe’s local bus system who was infected with COVID-19.

State health officials said during a vitual briefing that New Mexico’s death toll since the pandemic began has reached 5,700 and that every county is experiencing high rates of spread. That’s despite having a statewide mask mandate in place for public indoor spaces and a vaccination rate of more than 75% among adults. Nearly one-third of adults also have received boosters.

The officials also noted that while the omicron variant has been reported in New Mexico, delta continues to be the dominant variant in the state right now.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said there are several specimens that are awaiting sequencing at the state laboratory to determine if they are omicron cases and that the state is monitoring the situation closely.

Overall, she said New Mexico is sitting at what appears to be a “very high uncomfortable plateau" when it comes to COVID-19 cases. She said the surge began in July when the delta variant became prominent.

“We have been dealing with this ongoing high level of cases for several months now and we do see some decrease in our seven-day moving average most recently,” she said. “We certainly hope that trend continues downward, but I think we need more time to follow that trend out and see where it’s going to head.”

Ross said the state’s goal is to reduce risk, whether it be by encouraging vaccination, getting more people tested or reminding them about social distancing and avoiding crowds.

The state said it will be embarking on a pilot program aimed at expanding access to home tests.

In Santa Fe, the worker who died Monday was a supervisor with the city’s transit department.

Stephanie Stringer, deputy secretary of operations for the state Environment Department, has said that if the state finds the city did not take steps to prevent worker exposure to COVID-19, the department can take enforcement action and seek corrective measures.

City spokesman Dave Herndon said Santa Fe follows state guidelines, provides workers with personal protective equipment and regularly cleans and sanitizes buildings and equipment.