While the New Mexico Department of Health provides most of its COVID-19-related data by county and zip code, one piece had remained out of sight since the pandemic came to New Mexico.
Patient recovery numbers have routinely been reported as a statewide total, leaving residents and local elected officials wondering how their county is faring.
Wanting to know how many patients in Valencia County were considered recovered, the Valencia County News-Bulletin filed a records request with DOH under the state Inspection of Public Records Act on Friday, May 22.
A response to the IPRA request was sent by Deniece Y. Griego-Martinez, DOH chief records custodian, shortly before 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 10. The document provided included recovery numbers for all counties with cases through May 22.
At 8:53 a.m. the next day, Griego-Martinez sent a second email, asking to “recall” the message from the evening before.
We responded, asking if there was an issue with the information released, but received no response. The News-Bulletin’s article on the May 22 recovery numbers was posted to our website and a link shared on our Facebook page at about 2:30 p.m., Thursday, June 11.
After getting a response to our initial IPRA request, the News-Bulletin filed a second records request the same day, asking for the most current number of recovered patients in the county.
While DOH hasn’t responded to the second records request, late on Friday, June 12, the department posted county-by-county recovery numbers on it’s COVID-19 dedicated website, data that hasn’t been made public until now.
One of our top fans on Facebook, Gerald Glenn Gromatzky, posted a comment shortly after 9 p.m., pointing out the DOH website was showing recovered cases by county.
“Maybe (your) pushing and prodding done some good,” Gromatzky wrote. “I’m giving you the credit anyway.”
According to the information provided by DOH, as of Friday, May 22, when Valencia County had 71 total cases, DOH reported there were 41 patients classified as recovered.
According to the state website, cvprovider.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html, as of 9 a.m., Wednesday, June 17, there have been 7,241 tests done in Valencia County, of which 93 were positive. Of those, 57 patients have been designated as recovered and two have died.
Belen City Councilor Robert Noblin had also made similar inquiries about the number of recovered patients in the county, writing to the governor and lieutenant governor with no response. Noblin said the number of recovered patients in the county was important information for local elected officials to have, as well as the public at large.
“It’s important so we have a realistic number of active cases in the county,” Noblin said. “It’s also good for peace of mind; people are recovering in larger numbers than are dying.”
The councilor said the recovery rate was valuable to the public and business owners so they know what they are facing as the state moves ahead with reopening.
“This information in no way undermines the severity of COVID-19 and people should still take the precautions and pace which makes them comfortable,” he said.
The NMDOH hasn’t specifically said what criteria a person who tests positive for COVID-19 must meet to be designated as recovered from the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website notes that the decision to stop isolation for someone with COVID-19 should be made in the context of local circumstances.
The CDC gives two strategy options for people who have tested positive — a symptom-based strategy and a test-based strategy.
Someone with symptoms may discontinue isolation if they have been fever-free for at least 72 house without the use of medications and they have improvement in respiratory symptoms, and 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.
The test-based strategy contains those two criteria plus two negative COVID-19 tests in a row, collected about 24 hours apart.
For patients who had a positive test result but didn’t develop symptoms, the CDC guidelines say they can stop isolation at least 10 days after the date of the positive results, assuming they haven’t developed symptoms in the meantime.
The test-based strategy for patients without symptoms simply requires two negative tests in a row, collected about 24 hours apart.
The two county residents who have died from COVID-19-related complications were both women, the first in early May and the second at the end of May. Both women, one in her 60s and the other in her 70s, were hospitalized and had underlying medical conditions, according to the information the department of health released.
Information updated daily on the DOH website includes the total number of cases, tests, cases by county, deaths and hospitalizations, as well as current hospitalizations.
The total number of patients recovered from COVID-19, age, gender and race/ethnicity demographics, and total cases by zip code are updated once a week.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.