The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Regional schools head back to online

Portales High, Melrose, Yucca students temporarily go remote


Last updated 5/8/2021 at 3:06pm

SANTA FE — New Mexico's newest update of the “Red to Green” framework shows most of the state is in the vaunted turquoise designation, and they'll stay there until at least June 2.

But all is far from well, with Curry and Roosevelt counties reporting 63 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths in the last four days and three local schools returning to remote learning as a result.

Portales High School was the latest closure to in-person learning announced Friday, the same day Melrose announced a one-week remote learning period and three days after Clovis Municipal Schools announced a voluntary two-week remote learning period for Yucca Middle School.

Portales Schools Superintendent Johnnie Cain, in a letter to parents Friday, said the school was notified it had four rapid responses for COVID-19 inside of a 14-day period and would be required to return to remote learning for two weeks. The closure will begin Monday.

“This does not mean there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, but it does mean that of the cases that were reported, all of the tests were not within two days of each other,” Cain wrote. “Although there may be a positive individual who exposed others, if one of those who was exposed waited more than two days before testing, that is counted as a separate response. Portales High School has had seven positive cases since April 21 and five of them can be traced back to the first incident.

“Although we have done everything possible to keep our schools safe, as I have told you before, we realized it would be difficult to prevent infections within the schools.”

Cain said no activities or sporting events would occur during the next two weeks, and that the school planned to reopen May 24 and still hold graduation May 28 at Greyhound Stadium.

Earlier Friday, Melrose Superintendent Brian Stacy said a one-week remote learning session would be instituted after the district had its third positive test in the last two weeks. Stacy said the move was to allow for a deep cleaning of the campus and avoid a state-mandated two-week closure.

Yucca Middle School shifted to remote learning mode for two weeks beginning Wednesday, in what Clovis Municipal Schools cites as a preventative measure to avoid an involuntary closure by the state.

In-person instruction is scheduled to resume May 19.

The school is currently on the state's rapid response watchlist with three positive COVID-19 cases reported in the last two weeks. A fourth rapid response would have forced a two-week closure, and the district chose to maintain local discretion on when it could return to in-person learning.

"Returning to remote instruction is not taken lightly by district leadership," a district release said.

"However the district maintains the position that retaining the ability to make its own decisions regarding these issues, without the imposition of unscheduled state mandates, is the best way to navigate an already unfortunate situation."

In other COVID-19 developments:

• The newest county map update from the Department of Health showed Curry and Roosevelt among 30 of the 33 New Mexico counties in the turquoise zone.

The new measurement system, which debuted April 30, grades counties on meeting three COVID-19 metrics: Test positivity 7.5% or lower, no more than 10 daily cases per 100,000 residents and a full vaccination rate of 40%, increasing by 5% every two weeks to reach 60% by the end of June.

Turquoise counties meet all three metrics, green counties meet two, yellow counties meet one and red counties meet none.

Counties are evaluated every two weeks, but counties that reach the turquoise designation are only evaluated every four weeks. Curry and Roosevelt counties, which were both in the turquoise designation as of Friday, stayed there despite missing one or more of the three metrics Wednesday. Like the other 28 turquoise counties, they will remain in the designation until at least June 2.

“If you become turquoise,” Human Services Secretary David Scrase said, “you stay turquoise for four weeks.”

Curry registered 8.9 daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents and 4.58% test positivity between April 20 and May 3, with at 29.4% vaccination rate.

Roosevelt County had 19 daily cases per 100,000 residents and 10.93% test positivity with a 23.4% vaccination rate.

• Since Tuesday, Curry and Roosevelt counties have confirmed 63 new cases of COVID-19 - 38 in Curry County, 25 in Roosevelt County - and three deaths.

Curry County reported 15 cases Tuesday, five Wednesday, 11 Thursday and seven Friday.

Roosevelt County reported seven new cases Tuesday, two on Wednesday and eight each on Thursday and Friday.

Local deaths reported were a Curry County male in his 50s and a Curry County female in her 70s Tuesday and a Roosevelt County female in her 50s Wednesday. All three were hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

• State health officials announced the state is on track to reach 60% vaccination rate by the end of June.

However, the majority of identified positive cases have been variants of concern. Scrase said during Wednesday's webinar that nearly 70% of samples sequenced in New Mexico are variants of the virus, and reiterated that the pandemic is not over and safety guidelines should continue to be followed.

Scrase encouraged continued vaccination, and advised New Mexicans to continue to wear a mask in virtually any indoor situation, including in a restaurant when not eating.

• The state remains the most efficient vaccine distributor in the country, Health Secretary Tracie Collins said.

Collins said 58.9% of New Mexicans have received a first shot, and 45.4% are fully vaccinated, putting the state on track to reach its goal of 60% by June 30.

Additionally, children between the ages of 12-15 will soon be eligible to register for a vaccine, while children between the ages of 16-17 are getting registered and vaccinated fast with 30% having received the first shot, Collins said.

New Mexico is averaging a daily vaccine dose rate of 11,209 doses for the last seven days.

When asked what the state is doing specifically to help increase vaccine rates, Collins told the News the state is working to establish connections with primary care providers and to deliver vaccines to them.

The state is also putting on a number of vaccine events at schools, churches and other entities where people will be able to get vaccinated on site, Collins said.

“And so we have multiple approaches we are using to increase the vaccination rate,” Collins added.

Scrase said the vast majority of hospitals, including rural hospitals, in the state are private entities, and that the state has been working with them since December.

“They've been with us since the beginning and continue working with us,” Scrase said.

• The state reported 15 more COVID-19 related deaths between Tuesday and Friday, but officials said some of those deaths actually occurred during the winter.

Scrase said medical investigators are just now catching up to a backlog of deaths.

“We're — believe it or not — catching up from an unprecedented number of deaths that were referred to them in October through January,” he said.

He estimated new deaths in the state are averaging about one per day.

The Albuquerque Journal contributed to this report.


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