Friday’s COVID-19 update: Modeling the surge, handling the peak

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday told New Mexico that three more people have died from COVID-19, a total of 10 in the three weeks since March 11, the day the state identified its first positive case. Two were residents of a retirement community in Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, the number of infections rose to 495, nearly a 25% escalation from the previous total, 403.

It’s a striking rise, but “we are doing more testing,” the governor said, acknowledging a truism about an infectious disease: the more you test, the more you know. In other words, data is a good thing, a point the governor’s Human Services Secretary David Scrase returned to a few minutes later.

“There’s an old business saying, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure,’ ” the HSD secretary said.

As New Mexico hunkers down for what appears to be a protracted siege with a microscopic enemy, state officials on Friday continued to cajole and encourage New Mexicans to improve their commitment to not go out in public and to mingle in groups of fewer than five individuals. Social distancing is the best weapon against COVID-19, the officials repeated again and again.

But the officials didn’t rely just on words. They came bearing visual aides to drive the point home.

First came a slide with projections for when the state’s hospitals would be at capacity, meaning beds and ICU units would be full.

A different slide showed the grim statistics state officials expected over the next 12 months in the red box below— the number of deaths (3,066), the peak number of hospital beds (3,498) and Intensive Care Unit beds (2,175) needed for sickened people and the peak number of ventilators needed to help people breathe (1,629).

Before despair sets in, if New Mexicans do better at social distancing, like quit going to big-box stores in large groups — as some continue to do — and respond to calls to keep to groups of five or fewer in public, the officials said New Mexicans might see improved numbers. Cue the third slide, which shows improved numbers — in the green box below — in deaths (2.142), the peak number of hospital beds (1,576) and Intensive Care Unit beds (986) needed for sickened people and the peak number of ventilators needed to help people breathe (735).

And if New Mexicans are able to step up, the steep shortage in hospital beds and ventilators they project—cue the next slide—won’t be quite so grim. But by any measure, it’s a tall order. Again, social distancing is key.

The governor and her cabinet secretaries were challenging New Mexicans to step up to a challenge: How New Mexicans behave for the foreseeable future might save lives.

It’s not a sunny proposition, there will be deaths and the next few months will be tough. But New Mexicans have some control over how severe the pandemic will hit our state in the coming months.

That’s powerful incentive, if you ask me.

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