LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Coronavirus cases continued to jump at an "alarming" rate in southern New Mexico on Saturday, fueled by what state health officials indicated is close proximity to the Texas border and El Paso, as well as an outbreak at federally-run detention facilities.
There were 22 new cases reported in Doña Ana County, taking their total to 391. There have been just two deaths there during the pandemic.
As Doña Ana approaches the 400 mark with double-digit infection increases reported most days, New Mexico's Secretary for Health and Human Services on Saturday issued a warning to residents there.
"We are seeing an alarming increase in Covid-19 cases in the southern part of the state, particularly along the Texas/New Mexico border. Especially this holiday weekend, please slow the spread – stay home and don’t gather with others," Dr. David Scrase said in a video message posted to the governor's twitter account. (Scroll to bottom of this article to view it.)
He joined a growing chorus of officials, including the mayor of Las Cruces and the chairwoman of the Doña Ana County Commissioners, in expressing concern about New Mexicans who may travel to Texas, where some businesses have reopened on a faster timetable than New Mexico.
They've all noted a surge in neighboring El Paso, which on Saturday experienced 105 new cases. By comparison, all of New Mexico reported 175 additional cases for the day - with the Albuquerque metro, which is similar in size to El Paso, reporting just 16 new cases.
To date, El Paso's positive cases at 2,265 easily surpasses the Albuquerque area's total of 1,326.
Meantime another border location in southern New Mexico, Otero County, saw 37 new combined cases Saturday involving those being held at the Otero County Prison or the ICE Otero County Processing Center.
The sprawling complex that encompasses the two detention facilities off of U.S. 54, about 10 miles north of the Texas state line, houses a variety of detainees and inmates from different jurisdictions.
There's now been a total of 182 cases reported between the pair of facilities, which accounts for one of the largest outbreaks in the Borderland region. The case numbers for the populations of those facilities are being tallied separately from Otero County's residents, who have seen just 12 infections so far.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has previously criticized a lack of Covid-19 preventative measures taken by the federal agencies that operate those detention centers and the private company they hired to run the facilities.
Throughout New Mexico on Saturday, the state recorded six new deaths, lifting the fatality count related to the virus to 308.
The latest deaths occurred at nursing homes in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) and in Sandoval and San Juan counties in the northwest corner of the state near the very hard hit Navajo Nation. All three of those counties reported two deaths apiece on Saturday.
A message from Dr. David Scrase to southern New Mexico:— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) May 23, 2020
We are seeing an alarming increase in #COVID19 cases in the southern part of the state, particularly along the TX/NM border.
Especially this holiday weekend, please slow the spread – stay home and don’t gather with others. pic.twitter.com/i8nExcMx0v