SANTA FE, New Mexico – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced the state's fifth coronavirus death, an Albuquerque-area man in his 40s who was found unresponsive, and predicted that unfortunately "we will see more deaths."
Two new patients were also hospitalized, she added, bringing the number to 24 of those suffering severe enough symptoms from their infections to be admitted to hospitals across the state.
Lujan Grisham for the first time described in detail the state’s scientific forecasting for the virus' spreading to between 250,000 and 1.25 million people, with health experts expecting to see a roughly 1% mortality rate,
An early surge of infections is expected in the northwest region of the state in the coming week, the forecast indicates. Infections statewide are currently doubling roughly every 3.5 days — a slower rate than major urban hot-spots.
There were 35 new cases reported throughout the state on Tuesday, increasing the total to 315 people infected. None of the new cases were in the Las Cruces-area, where the count stood at 18.
Lujan Grisham noted that part of the reason for New Mexico's growth in cases is because it is leading the nation in virus testing per capita. As of Tuesday, more than 13,000 people have been tested.
To help slow the spread of infection so that the health care system is not overwhelmed, New Mexico will relax its testing criteria to allow some people who don't show any symptoms to receive testing.
Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said those who have had close contact or live in the same household as a person who tested positive, as well as any nursing home residents, will be able to get a test.
She added that doctor referrals would no longer be needed for testing at Department of Health testing locations.
The governor said the federal government had agreed to grant New Mexico a field hospital for an anticipated surge in cases. The location for this hospital is not yet known.
The governor also indicated the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing potential sites in numerous communities, including Las Cruces, to add to the number of beds available for medical treatment.
Human Services Secretary and physician David Scrase said the demand for hospital beds could rise to nearly 3,500 under a severe infection scenario — outstripping the current statewide hospital bed capacity of 2,500. There are 365 beds equipped with ventilator breathing machines that can treat acute respiratory problems associated with the virus, while the demand under a severe forecast peaks at 630.
Health officials hope to further expand hospital bed capacity while ratcheting down infection rates — depending on public cooperation with social-distancing advisories — to bridge the gap.
“I think we can get the delivery system to double or more the number of ICU (intensive care unit) beds and ventilators and even general hospital capacity,” Scrase said. “”We can get New Mexicans to cut in half the transmission of the disease — halve the disease, double our capacity — I think we can make this work.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)