Virus hospitalizations on rise again
Last updated 7/31/2021 at 3:45pm
The number of COVID-19 patients in New Mexico hospitals increased again last week, reaching the highest peak in more than two months.
Health Department officials on Friday reported 148 people were hospitalized in the state with the virus. At the end of June, that number was 64. It's the most hospitalizations in New Mexico in a single day since 155 people with the virus were in state hospitals on May 20.
The numbers also are rising in Clovis, though not significantly.
Plains Regional Medical Center Director Jorge Cruz said Friday there were seven virus patients in the Clovis hospital - up from four on Tuesday and two on July 22. Cruz said two COVID patients were in intensive care on Friday.
In July, through Friday, Curry County has reported 137 new COVID cases, compared to 78 new cases in June. Roosevelt County has recorded 53 new cases in July, compared to 19 in June. The peak for new cases during the pandemic was in November when Curry-Roosevelt counties combined reported 2,073 new cases.
The last COVID-related death among Curry-Roosevelt county residents was recorded on June 30, though Cruz said PRMC has seen two COVID-related deaths in recent weeks.
Increasing cases across the nation are being blamed on the delta variant of the virus, which health officials say is more contagious than the original, which has killed more than 600,000 Americans.
In response to the rising numbers, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week signed an executive order requiring state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face regular testing.
The order covers about 17,000 state workers.
"We're not safe if we're not vaccinated," the governor said in a news conference at the Capitol. "It's as simple as that."
Under the order, state employees who are not fully vaccinated must be tested every two weeks and wear a mask when working indoors, with exceptions for eating and drinking.
Failure to comply can result in disciplinary action, including termination. The order takes effect Monday.
Lujan Grisham is also evaluating whether to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment in certain high-risk settings under her executive authority - a move that would mean some employees would not have the option to choose testing over vaccination.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Mexico have doubled over the past three weeks. The number of daily cases has also exploded as health officials plead for more people to get vaccinated.
But New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce accused Lujan Grisham of "overstepping her authority and having government make personal choices for its citizens."
The mandate, he said, is unjustified and "a slap in the face to hardworking state employees."
That too was the feeling among about 50 area residents who gathered outside the Roosevelt County Courthouse on Saturday morning to protest mask mandates. Similar protests were planned across the state this week, including Clovis Municipal Schools at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Wade Fraze, a Portales High School history teacher who helped spread the word about the protests, said mask requirements are a "power play" by the governor.
Elementary school-age children, he said, are mostly immune from COVID-19, and even if they do get it, he said, the cases are mild.
In fact, he said, COVID-19 overall has been blown out of proportion. He said he had the disease himself and was only sick "for a couple of days."
"It's like a cold or the flu," he said. "Some people get it bad, but most people don't."