Even amid the pandemic, Santa Fe County remains a destination for out-of-state visitors, which is contributing to a higher rate of daily novel coronavirus cases here than in other counties in the region, state health officials said Thursday.

In the past week, Santa Fe County’s daily cases per 100,000 residents outpaced those in Bernalillo, San Juan, Sandoval and Valencia counties, according to the New York Times tracker for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“Santa Fe is a regional center, so we attract people from the surrounding areas,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health, in a virtual news conference. “The other thing is it’s a tourist destination, and so we do have a significant amount of tourists coming in, which also could influence our rates.”

Santa Fe’s count of positive tests — including 14 reported Thursday — is out of step with the state’s, which has dipped in recent weeks.

New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase said statewide trends are encouraging.

The transmission rate has fallen to 0.70 — well below New Mexico’s target of 1.05. Anything below 1 means the caseload will drop because not every infected person is spreading the virus to someone else.

Weekly deaths, which spiked to 45 in late July, dropped to 23 in mid-August.

Hospitalizations also are declining, with 248 intensive-care beds filled, health officials said. That’s 18 above the normal 240-bed average but way below the 460-bed ceiling that would require patients to share ventilators.

Still, the persistent rise in Santa Fe County’s caseload remains a concern.

Contact tracing shows the county’s caseload, a total of 736, has resulted from people not taking precautions such as wearing masks, washing hands adequately and keeping safe distances from one another, said David Morgan, a spokesman for the Department of Health.

The northeast region of New Mexico, which includes Santa Fe, had the lowest rate of daily cases in the state in early August, at 4.6 per 100,000 residents, according to state health data.

But the latest New York Times data shows Santa Fe’s average daily rate was 6 per 100,000 in the past week, compared to:

  • Bernalillo, 4
  • Rio Arriba, 5.6
  • Valencia, 5
  • Sandoval, 2.5

All areas of the state except for the southeastern region are improving since the surge in June and July that led the governor to reinstate some COVID-19 restrictions, such as a ban on indoor dining.

In the southeast, new cases jumped by 19.3 percent in a seven-day period, a trend Smelser attributed partly to the area’s proximity to Texas, one of the nation’s hot spots.

But Smelser warned that could change in the fall, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts what could be the worst period for public health in the nation since the pandemic began.

Scrase said he hopes a big autumn wave doesn’t hit New Mexico. Another forced closure would strain businesses and other institutions, and a spike in cases would further complicate reopening schools, he said.

Schools across the state are now operating remotely, with teachers and students meeting through online platforms. Santa Fe Public Schools began the year with distance learning Thursday and plans to continue on a remote model for at least the first nine weeks.

Albuquerque Public Schools, meanwhile, will operate remotely through the full first semester, following a vote by the school board Wednesday.

One way to help prevent a spike this fall is sticking with the basic precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding indoor spaces where others are unmasked and avoiding large gatherings, Scrase said, adding moderation is key.

“If we want to reopen a little more, we have to be super diligent,” Scrase said. “Don’t plan the big family barbecue with 30 people on Labor Day.”

Although the state is heading in the right direction when it comes to containing the spread of the virus, people shouldn’t expect loosened restrictions in the next couple of weeks, Scrase said. He cited states like Texas and Arizona as cautionary tales on reopening too swiftly after cases begin to wane.

The virus is still present in the community even if the caseload slows for several weeks, Scrase said.

“We’re looking for a longer period of recovery than that,” he added.

(17) comments

Janet Davidoff

My experience grocery shopping with about one-third Maskless Bioterrorists snarfing around acting the fool was unpleasant. I quit grocery shopping.

Easy to blame visitors or the governor... no one wants to confront the redhat AK47s that scream mah crotch gotta breathe!

Lucky me I am able to bypass local businesses until they get serious about enforcing safety standards... I care as much about their survival as they care about mine. NONE.

Lee DiFiore

Gating criteria meant and then some. Time for grishy to relocate the camouflaged moving targets for taking her knee off the neck of NM small businesses and the tens of thousands she threw on the unemployment roles. I'll show you peasants who's in charge.

Khal Spencer

I've seen more Texas license plates than ever in my part of town and suspect a house around the corner, which I think is a B&B, is being used by people coming here from out of state. Whether they are quarantining is a joke.

Kathy Fish

As someone living in the 87507 zip code, I'm not surprised that we're seeing higher rates. It's true that many of our residents are healthcare and service workers, but on walks around my neighborhood in the evening, it's also not uncommon to see large gatherings taking place. I certainly won't be calling law enforcement, but it's concerning to see folks standing and sitting close together, talking and eating merrily and without masks on. Family gatherings are a lifeline for so many, and an integral part of our culture, at least where I reside. Still, I worry about the ramifications of potentially large Labor Day weekend gatherings - and the consequences of gatherings taking place now. What can be done? It's up to individuals to educate themselves, and gratefully, we don't live in a police state, yet. The chips will fall where they may, and those who choose to disregard health orders will continue to do so. Any advice, fellow commenters?

Brigid Curran

Yes, why not call to report. You may save many lives by asking for help from our authorities by alerting what is happening. Not to punish people, but educate people and appeal to hopeful compassion and caring to our fellow citizens.

Then maybe call your community together to discuss, with masks, and safe distance, how all of you can help to NOT prolong this illness progress. That we stand together and protect one another, using common sense could really diminish and, hopefully eradicate, this virus.

This only gets prolonged due to a non-cohesive plan that does not protect others from one person to another.

If someone has to take a time away from their normal connections, day-to-day lifestyle to think of their fellow neighbors and friends to make sure they don’t endanger someone else, what is friendship, neighborhood, compassionate caring about?

There are many safe ways to connect, but you are even exposing yourself if you don’t consider others.

A “police state” has nothing to do with any of this. The Police can educate and protect if it is a mandate or a law, to help people stay safe.

Family get-to-gethers are important but there are safe ways to be together... mast protected, distanced, and the smallest of groups groups.

What is that so hard?

I wish your community the best and the courage to take the best precautions, because of their concern and love for one another.

Chris Mechels

A trip to the grocery stores will be informative. The quality of masks is a problem, with many still wearing "face coverings". Our Governor confused us on this score, with telling us NOT to wear face masks for two months, then going for "face coverings". Restaurant waiters should have N95 masks, to protect them AND the customers. The should also us IR temperature scans, but don't. Perhaps we haven't been hit hard enough, as Dona Ana has, to take Covid seriously, but we will be. Needed, a REAL Covid leader, with credentials, to replace the Governor and Scrase, her family doctor, who have NO credentials, and rain confusion upon us.

The Governor doesn't GET governance, which is about hiring folks MORE competent than yourself, and delegating. Michelle doesn't get the D word, delegation, and has a really pathetic Cabinet. We must hope that she takes a Federal job.

Elizabeth Pettus

Please take a look at the zip code map. The bulk of Coronavirus cases, for a variety of reasons, is in 87507 zip code. Walking past a restaurant, especially if one is wearing a mask is not a real risk. Also, the restaurants outdoor spaces don't move, pedestrians move. If you don't want to walk close to a restaurant, just don't. Everyone I see around the Plaza every day of the week, except Thursday, is wearing a mask and distancing while they are walking around. Outdoor restaurant staff are assiduous about cleaning, and keeping people safe.

Jennifer Johnson

87507 is where most essential workers live: those who work in restaurant kitchens, clean hotel rooms and other tourist industry support jobs. How do restaurant workers stay safe when diners have their masks off while eating? The diners are protected by the waiter’s masks, but the waiters have no protections from them once they are seated. We need to recognize the enormous risks placed on those who serve our #1 industry and give them the respect and resources they deserve.

Stefanie Beninato

Not my experience. And many "wearing" masks have them in hand or around their neck not over their face.

Stefanie Beninato

Aren't you the same Elizabeth on nextdoor.com who thought the maskless group at Canyon Rd park who meet there regularly looked like a fun group? If so have you joined them yet?

Elizabeth Pettus

No I am not, Stephanie

Elizabeth Pettus

Why would you say such a thing?

Amy Earle

The CDC has strongly recommended that people remain in their own state and immediate geographical area yet some Americans have the idea that the middle of a pandemic is the perfect time to take cross country vacations. It makes no sense at all but then we’ve proven as a country a lot of people don’t have any. No question tourists from all over the place mixing together mostly downtown is a very bad idea. It’s one of the main reasons to cross downtown off the list of places to frequent at this time. Still, it’s not just tourists to blame for our SF numbers. All the gatherings for birthday parties and the like continue to be an issue. I’ve seen this in my own neighborhood as I’m sure others have as well. Yes we are good when it comes to mask compliance in stores but clearly we have more work to do when it comes to social gatherings and congregating together.

Dan Frazier

Stefanie, not only is there no evidence locally that panhandlers or outdoor diners are contributing to the spread, there is almost no evidence anywhere that the virus spreads easily outdoors. In fact, there is only one documented case that I have read about involving outdoor transmission, and that happened early in the pandemic in China.

Stefanie Beninato

So what do you attribute the rise to? Big box stores and grocery stores have been open since the shutdown began. Are those workers and the patrons becoming less caring and not wearing masks at all? Not what I observe. And in one case, in a bus with open windows the person sitting next to someone who was asymptomatic contracted COVID. Most of the others did not--not in US>

Stefanie Beninato

The city has encouraged the spread by having panhandlers without masks on medians who run up to cars asking for $. Also the whole outdoor restaurant scene downtown---many sidewalks unusable if you are trying to maintain distance--like the one on Galisteo betw. Water and Alameda. The sidewalk is so narrow you have no space betw you and the dinners. At the Inn of the Anasazi if you use the sidewalk not only are you close to dinners but you have to avoid servers too. And then there are those whether eating or not as long as they sit at a table think they can sit there for hours without a mask. The maskless group in Patrick Smith park is also another blatant example of disregard for the masking requirement in public. Really no surprise that the rate is rising here.

Elizabeth Pettus

I gather that big box store behavior is more the issue.

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