'We decreased from a 24 percent positivity rate to a 13 percent positivity rate,' Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday during a virtual news conference. 'We are aiming for about a statewide 5 percent positivity rate, so you can see we have a long way to go, but this is exactly what we were hoping and aiming for.'

A two-week economic shutdown helped drive down the number of new COVID-19 infections in New Mexico.

But the latest data shows the state is once again beginning to trend in the wrong direction and seeing an alarming level of hospitalizations, prompting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to remind residents Thursday to remain vigilant of the virus and follow public health guidelines.

“The issue is the two weeks doesn’t really change the entire trajectory, so this is not an invitation for people to go out more,” said Lujan Grisham, who indicated during a virtual news conference Thursday she plans to seek reelection in 2022.

“It’s a recognition that those solid public health practices work, and if we keep them up, we can give our health care workers a rest, we can make sure that we don’t completely overwhelm our health care system,” she said, adding COVID-19 is already inundating the state’s hospital network.

Still, the governor said a public health order in November that shut down in-person services at businesses deemed nonessential — a move she called a “reset” for the state as infections climbed to record levels — had its desired effect.

“We decreased from a 24 percent positivity rate to a 13 percent positivity rate,” she said. “We are aiming for about a statewide 5 percent positivity rate, so you can see we have a long way to go, but this is exactly what we were hoping and aiming for.”

Thursday’s glimmer of good news came hours after the state Department of Health issued an emergency order prohibiting all hospital acute care facilities in New Mexico from performing nonessential surgeries through Jan. 4. The state also issued an emergency order relating to crisis care standards, which would allow hospitals to begin rationing care based on the severity of a patient’s symptoms and a person’s chances of survival with interventions. The order outlines the steps necessary to protect health care providers from liability during the public health crisis.

“New Mexico’s health care providers and delivery system will continue to provide the best possible care to all patients,” acting Health Secretary Billy Jimenez said in a statement.

“New Mexico’s health care system, and everyone working within it, will continue to work toward the best possible outcome for our state,” he continued. “It’s so important for all of us to step up for those dedicated health care workers, to recognize the sacrifices they are making to protect our neighbors, to understand our own actions can and will make a difference. Take this crisis seriously and adopt COVID-safe behaviors in your own day-to-day life.”

The order temporarily limiting surgeries, effective Friday, is in response “to the ongoing public health crisis in New Mexico and resulting unsustainable strain on health care providers and hospitals” as a result of the pandemic, the Health Department said.

Nonessential surgeries are defined in the order as procedures that can be delayed for three months without “undue risk” to a patient’s health.

“Nothing in the emergency order applies to the provision of emergency medical care or any medical actions necessary to provide for urgent or emergency medical needs; or to any surgery or procedure that would result in the worsening of a serious condition, if not performed,” the department said. Examples include removing a cancerous tumor or a surgery intended to manage an infection.

The order outlines criteria to be considered in distinguishing between essential and nonessential procedures, including the threat to a patient’s life or threat of “permanent dysfunction of an extremity,” as well as prenatal or postnatal care.

On Thursday, the state reported 1,791 new cases of the novel coronavirus, with 74 additional infections in Santa Fe County.

The state also had 23 more deaths, including a Santa Fe County woman in her 90s.

On Thursday, 916 people across the state were hospitalized for COVID-19, with 159 patients on ventilators.

“This number is very frightening,” the governor said about the number of hospitalizations. “I don’t want people to be frightened. But I want you to see that this is a dramatic number, and it is why we have to work harder.”

The disease continues to strain hospital capacity.

“We’ve got to manage this virus better because we will overwhelm the health care system, and I mean completely overwhelm it, where there isn’t an available space for practitioners,” Lujan Grisham said.

While the governor’s so-called reset worked, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said the state is seeing an uptick in new cases.

“That’s very worrisome because of the state our hospitals are in, and they just cannot take on another 100 patients at this point of time,” he said.

“We have hospitals now that are over 50 percent coronavirus patients for the first time in the pandemic. We have intensive care units that are 100 percent coronavirus patients for the first time in the pandemic. We have hospital ICUs that have every single person on ventilators for the first time in the pandemic, and that it is very unusual,” he said.

“ICUs provide a broad spectrum of care for very, very sick people,” Scrase added. “But I know in my career — and I haven’t worked in ICU for a while, so just want to be clear on that — [I’ve] never been in a situation or heard of a situation where every single person in an ICU was on a ventilator.”

(12) comments


Monique, I'm hoping you are just tired and didn't read things right. Richard was NOT saying that the medical community was incompetent. He was asking a rhetorical question inferring that the medical community WAS competent to determine whether surgeries should be performed and when, NOT the governor and her minions, who don't know the first thing about medical care.


Really, it seems you would give the vaccine to the Age Groups that are filling the hospitals as they are doing in Canada and the UK. Seems to make more sense.

Mark Brown

more MLG mismanagement, didn't work before. wont work now, guess the Health Secretary is in hiding

Karen Williams

It's all about making the boat payment for some. Then an outpatient surgery has an issue and ends up in the ICU for a night "just to keep a close eye on things". Forgive me for the butthead comment but I just worked a 12 hour shift in the ICU and am home decompressing before going to bed.

Richard Irell

I hope that you stay well.

Gene Bryan

Karen, Thank you for hard work! Rest well!

Richard Irell

I would think that if the hospitals felt that they were under too much strain to perform non-essential surgeries, that they would stop doing do so on their own. Are the hospitals and staff too incompetent to figure that out on their own or is this just an(other) arbitrary and capricious decision?

B. Rosen

It will be a lot easier for hospitals to deny nonessential procedures with the public health order. Patients are still going to be upset, but it will be a matter of state policy and not just the hospital’s.

Richard Irell

I don’t believe that the government’s power should be used as an excuse. Why couldn’t the governor use her bully pulpit to ask the medical community to stop non-essential procedures instead of wielding her authority? Shouldn’t that have been the first step at least?

louise Yakey

Are you a health care provider, Rich?

Richard Irell

No, but why is that relevant? I just believe that the hospitals and the medical staff are competent to make the correct decisions on their own and don’t need a government fiat. The government has power, but it d\should use that power wisely, judiciously, and sparingly. I don’t believe that is the case here.

Monique Priest


I find it offensive that you would call medical staff incompetent. I am a surgical personnel and it’s not about being competent to make those decisions. Elective surgeries patients usually go home and do not take up beds. I like how you are quick to call the medical community incompetent but when you need care and if you end up in the icu I guess you would rely on the incompetent medical community to care for you. Why is it such an issue that they waited for the government to shut it down. What about the people spreading it in restaurants and gyms but yet you do not critique them for not using common sense and shut it down? They had to be directed by the government to shut it down. This entire pandemic is a result of people being incompetent and selfish. If people could stop going out and hanging out with other outside their household then we wouldn’t even need to stop surgeries because their would be enough resources. The surgical department isn’t incompetent or the problem here.

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