For several weeks, Santa Fe had become accustomed to — if not reassured by — the slow drip of COVID-19 cases in the area. One per day, two per day, none per day, one per day.
But when a steadier stream — three, five, four — grew to eight, 10 and six cases in just the past three days, officials sounded the alarm. For an area that had done very well in keeping the spigot tightened, even drawing praise from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as an example for the rest of the state, June has not been a good month.
Santa Fe County’s 90 cases in June more than doubled the 42 it reported in May.
Though the rise in cases here coincides with a slow reopening of the economy and more visitors to the city, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said the area’s recent uptick does not appear to be driven by tourists. The spread, he said, is coming from residents.
“According to the data I’ve seen, the outbreak we are seeing right now is not tourism-related,” Webber said in his weekly Zoom news conference Monday. “It has been more or less isolated to some specific members of our community where the families have passed COVID to each other, and that’s been a spike very much localized to individuals.
“It’s too soon to say whether we’ll see a spike that comes from tourism,” the mayor said. “I know there’s been a great sensitivity to that and people are emailing me saying, ‘Why aren’t we enforcing the face mask requirements for tourists?’ And the answer is, ‘We are and will be,’ but so far the data don’t suggest that it’s the tourists who are behind the eight and 10 members. It’s isolated outbreaks in our own community.”
In the 36 new cases the county has seen in just over a week, 13 of 36 — more than a third — are under the age of 30, and nine are in their 40s.
According to Department of Health data of the new cases in Santa Fe County since June 22, 15 are female, and 21 are male.
Webber again beseeched people to wear masks while in public and to adhere to social-distancing mores that largely worked in the weeks after the COVID-19 crisis reached Santa Fe. While people here initially did an exceptional job staying home and wearing masks, Webber noted “the discipline required to stay safe and reopen at the same time … is starting to wane even as we are seeing cases rise.”
His message was not much different from the one Lujan Grisham delivered to the state last week.
The mayor said city officials have met with hotel managers to remind them to encourage guests — especially those from states that don’t require masks — to adopt Santa Fe’s mask-wearing habits.
“In the spirit of Santa Fe hospitality and respect,” the mayor said, police officers have been handing out masks and issuing “verbal warnings” to those seen out in public without masks.
In recent days, he said they’ve now begun issuing citations as well.
“I think it’s urgent to step up enforcement,” he said, “but I really believe in the power of constructive campaigning. … You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
The mayor encouraged locals to remind visitors of the city’s mask ordinance — which carries a verbal warning on first offense and a $50 fine upon second and subsequent offenses — but only if they can do so politely and “with grace.”
If it seems like such advice is not well received, he said, residents should leave mask policing to the police.
State Department of Health epidemiologist Daniel Sosin said Monday the agency hasn’t tracked Santa Fe’s recent spike in cases to any one family picnic, graduation party or reopened business — instances that have helped create spikes in other cities around the country and in New Mexico.
The department said there was no significant clustering by addresses or employers, though there were a couple of apparent family clusters of two and three cases.
“It really can’t be attributed to any one event or family. What I have seen is many cases appearing in workplaces,” Sosin said.
“What we are seeing across the state is general increases in all parts of the state that have not before had high numbers of cases,” Sosin added. “It’s a result of all the factors you see as you drive around town,” he said, mentioning more people driving around town, in stores and out walking.
Sosin said the Health Department collects data that shows the ZIP codes where positive tests are trending and uses it to target more testing.
He said health officials know there is “community spread” between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Officials constantly warn the public to behave as if they have the virus, increase attention to hygiene, limit contacts, wear face masks and observe social distancing in public.
Asked to discuss Santa Fe County’s intensive care unit and ventilator capacity, Sosin said the state is “managing at current levels” and has contingency plans “if we were to lose control of this pandemic.”
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center spokesman Arturo Delgado said in an email the hospital has “sufficient capacity for potential COVID-19 patients and … the capacity to expand if necessary.”
Delgado said the hospital recently saw a decrease in the number and severity of cases involving patients from the northwestern corner of the state, which has been hardest hit by the virus.
“We currently have sufficient ventilators, and we continue to work to acquire more for any increases we might experience,” he said.