NMDOH: COVID-19 case counts declining, mask mandate to remain in place

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — COVID-19 case counts are declining in New Mexico.

However, hospitals are still operating beyond capacity, and state health officials said there are plans to extend crisis standards of care because of that.

The New Mexico Department of Health has provided an additional 400 hospital staff workers to keep operations running around the state – and another 1,200 health care workers have been contracted to help support Albuquerque area hospitals.

Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary for the state’s Department of Health, said New Mexico needs to be able to move away from some of that reliance on out-of-state resources before the state can drop the mask mandate.

"The pressure on hospitals is severe, and I think we’re just going to have to look at the data and see," Scrase said in a COVID-19 update Wednesday. "Believe me, I know Kurt Steinhaus, our secretary of the Public Education Department, I know myself, the governor, we all really want to stop the mask mandate but masks are effective. The state is still in hot water. We don’t really want to do that until we feel like everyone will be safe."

Scrase pointed to research from the CDC on the effectiveness of face masks. People who reported wearing a mask indoors were less likely to test positive for COVID-19. Cloth masks reduced transmission by 56%, surgical masks reduced transmission by 66%, and N95 masks reduced transmission by 83%.

The New Mexico Medical Advisory Team has been reviewing studies on this. They said 88% of the studies they’ve reviewed support mask effectiveness.

The current public health order requiring masks indoors will remain in place until at least March 4.

New Mexico reported 1,844 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.