COVID-19 has claimed its first victim in New Mexico, and positive tests for the respiratory disease continue to rise in the state.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported a man in his late 70s died Sunday from the illness, caused by the fast-spreading novel coronavirus, at Artesia General Hospital in southeastern New Mexico. The state now has 112 confirmed cases, including three new cases in Santa Fe County and two cases in Rio Arriba County, the first time that jurisdiction has reported positives.

COVID-19, which has spread to 15 of New Mexico’s 33 counties and has led to a dozen hospitalizations in the state, poses a challenge for doctors, who must diagnose and treat a virus that is so far impervious to any approved medications.

“This is a tragic day,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release Wednesday announcing the death of the Eddy County man. “Across our state, across the country, we are all reeling from the effects of this virus.

“For anyone in our state who had not yet acknowledged this virus as the urgent public health crisis that it is, who has not accepted the extremely compelling need to stay home, today lays bare the very real, very life-or-death consequences of this disease,” the governor said.

The new cases in Santa Fe County involve a woman in her 40s, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 70s. In Rio Arriba County, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s tested positive.

The Department of Health noted a previously reported case in Chaves County was a clerical error.

State health officials say the outbreak could escalate as more people get tested, filling up many of the 344 intensive care beds statewide.

About 6,840 New Mexicans have been tested, making the state the third-highest in the nation in per-capita testing.

Around 80 percent of those who contract the respiratory illness can recover at home, and only a small portion of the 20 percent who are hospitalized end up in intensive care.

For some patients, deadly symptoms escalate quickly.

The Health Department said the Eddy County man, who had a variety of chronic health issues, went to the Artesia hospital Sunday and died later that day after his condition deteriorated. The state laboratory received his novel coronavirus test Tuesday and confirmed it as positive.

Doctors at regional hospitals have clearly defined criteria for distinguishing COVID-19 from other respiratory illnesses and when an infection requires a hospital stay.

“If you develop a pneumonia secondary to COVID-19, it’s pretty recognizable because it’s very severe,” said Dr. David Gonzales, an internist with Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

Typically, both sides of the lungs become inflamed and portions fill with fluids and proteins, making it difficult to breathe, Gonzales said.

Patients who show clear signs of respiratory distress, such as quick breathing — 30 or more breaths per minute — and low oxygen absorption, are placed on a respirator in the intensive care unit, Gonzales said.

Some suffer organ failure, he added.

Patients with less-severe respiratory symptoms can be given oxygen therapy, which involves shooting air through a nose tube or face mask rather than a tube inserted into the windpipe, as is required with a respirator, said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer for the Lovelace Health System in Albuquerque.

Sometimes patients on oxygen therapy can be sent home, but rarely will anyone use a respirator at home because it is difficult for patients to manage on their own, Sandoval said.

According to Gonzales, certain inhalers also can help COVID-19 patients breathe easier.

Criteria for COVID-19 hospitalization is the same as for patients without the virus, including very low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and rapid breathing, Gonzales said.

Someone in the higher-risk groups — with impaired immunity, heart trouble, diabetes or respiratory disease — would still have to display COVID-19 symptoms before being admitted to the hospital, Gonzales said.

Instead, doctors would watch them closely as outpatients, he added, and would bring them into a hospital if their conditions changed.

Although the new coronavirus has no vaccine or medicinal treatment — though several drugs are being studied as possible treatments — some doctors prescribe antibiotics and antiviral medications to help patients fend off other potential illnesses while their bodies are under stress from COVID-19.

Gonzales said those kinds of secondary treatments are applied case by case and not as a standard practice. That’s because an antibiotic might cause a bacteria to grow resistant in the body or cause a negative reaction in the patient, he said.

The key to fighting the virus’ spread and saving the lives of those most vulnerable to the respiratory illness is widespread social isolation, doctors and public officials have said repeatedly.

“If we can really keep those at-risk populations safer by reducing contact,” Sandoval said, “then we may not experience some of the high rates of influx into hospitals that we’ve seen [elsewhere] … so that we can manage these patients well.”

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(19) comments

Constance lucero

Let's put this in perspective, people. Winning an Olympic gold medal – 1 in 662,000 chance nationwide for entire USA population. Dying from COVID-19 twice as unlikely.

Linda Dunning

Dr “Who”??? You are the one who took this thread down the “political “ path. You should stick to selling beer via the photo you stole off the Internet

David Cartwright

What purpose is served by these continual updates adding several cases to the total if we don't know more specifically what the habits of these people were? In other words, if it's a Santa Fe case, did the person visit a specific supermarket or work at a specific place. How else do the rest of us know the context otherwise. If a key point of hte CV fighting effort is to trace people and contacts, the New Mexican is really not helping much.

Mari Martin

I totally agree with you I posted on this last week we need to know where in Santa Fe county, Santa Fe, Moriarty, El Rancho the pueblo’s? Bernalillo County is much larger. we need more transparency for our safety and our loved ones safety. Thanks

Edward Brown

He had significant underlying conditions. Yet you did not this. WHY?

Brad Doubles

MATH.......1/112=.0089% death rate in NM

Sorry this man died as nobody wants to have fatalities from a virus that came to us from outside of our borders. Even if it was from within, it would be a shame. BUT, let's not panic ike the sky is falling....Stay the course with social distancing, most importantly, PRACTICE SUPERIOR HYGIENE (youm Mom should have taught you this anyway) and look for positives out there. If you do, it will make this MUCH easier...Just saying

Patricia Azuar

1/112 is 0.89%, nearly 1%, similar to the other range of estimates globally. Accuracy and facts are now more important than ever.

Brad Doubles

Patricia,

Check your calculator...

.89 woud be 89%

.0089 is just under 1%

Decimals matter😁

Brad Doubles

We are saying the same thing....you took your math further for people who dont understand more than 2 place math but 1/112 is .0089

Translates to just under 1%

Dennis Martinez

I’m worried that with all the announcements about not going to the doctor until you call a number and are told where to go get a test, you should remain at home, is going to cause deaths because people wait too long to get help.

Nick Rivera

God Bless This Man and His Family Prayers [sad]

Joseph Tafoya

Wouldn't it be great if the politicians would get this excited about DWI's

Dr. Michael Johnson

Our Guv., exploiting a death of an old, sick man for her political purposes, despicable.

James Morris

Dr. Johnson,

You must be kidding Any Governor would express his or condolences on behalf of the state. It’s old fashioned virtues. I still believe in civility.

Dr. Michael Johnson

Did you even read what Mich said???

"This is a tragic day," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release. "Across our state, across the country, we are all reeling from the effects of this virus.

"For anyone in our state who had not yet acknowledged this virus as the urgent public health crisis that it is, who has not accepted the extremely compelling need to stay home, today lays bare the very real, very life-or-death consequences of this disease."

That is not "expressing condolences on behalf of the state". That is exploiting the death for her political purposes. You need to work on your reading comprehension and the political bias clouding it.

Mike Fink

I think you are reading too much into it. I think you are biased. I don’t think you like the governor and I suspect you never have and that has clouded your judgment. I am am an outsider independent as that is what I see looking in.

Joe Case

If that's how you interpret those statements, as exploitive for political purposes, either you have the reading comprehension of a first grader, or your bias is so strong that it inhibits your thinking capability to that of a first grader. Surely not reflective of someone on the internet who has placed the letters "Dr." before their name lmao.

Paul Chadwick

Exploiting for political purposes is exactly what Dr. Johnson is doing with his comments. This is typical right-wing behavior: Outrageously impugn the motives of those you oppose, then double down in order to distract from your own motives of questionable basis.

Angel Ortiz

Reality Doctor Johnson. Just reality. Jump off the political pony

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