As the coronavirus pandemic closes in on its one year anniversary, the number of new cases and deaths reported daily in New Mexico and Valencia County have begun to trend downward.
There are now three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use to combat the virus, although rollouts across the nation and locally have been less than ideal.
Even with those lights at the end of our collective tunnel, a Los Lunas man wants members of his community to remember one thing — COVID-19 is still here and still a threat to people’s health.
On Jan. 22, Phil Gregory, 78, of Los Lunas, posted to his Facebook page that he and his wife, Marilyn, also 78, seemed to be on the mend after more than two weeks of battling the illness.
“We had severe symptoms … fever, coughing, muscle aches, sinus congestion and headaches and total exhaustion,” Gregory wrote. “Our temperatures have stabilized, finally, without the Tylenol. Other symptoms have lessened.”
He began experiencing symptoms on Jan. 8, and it hit them both hard in the first week, keeping them home, suffering, Gregory said.
“It started with fever, muscle cramps, dizziness. My wife was throwing up a lot. It totally wiped us out; for three days, all we could do was sleep. We could hardly move at all,” he said in a phone interview. “My second week was a really rough week. My daughter was able to come stay with us. I really think if she hadn’t, we would have had to go to the hospital and been separated. That was my biggest fear.”
The Gregory’s daughter, Kelly, is a hospital chaplain in Albuquerque and had received both doses of her COVID-19 vaccine before coming to care for her parents.
Gregory, an avid athlete, said he’s sure he picked up the virus the week prior either at his doctor’s office or the hospital he went to for an MRI and brought it home to his wife.
“Marilyn has not been out of the house at all. I always wore a mask, used hand gels, especially when shopping. I was even spraying the bottom of my shoes and not taking plastic bags inside; I took everything out in the garage,” he said.
The couple is almost back to where they were pre-COVID, Gregory said, but there seems to be some lingering, situational depression.
“Normally, you hop up in the morning and go, but there is a kind of lingering depression in the third week where it’s hard to get motivated to do normal stuff even after you get your energy back,” he said.
Gregory said they are both signed up for the vaccine, which he hopes to get sooner rather than later given the unknowns of immunity after having the infection.
“New studies show you have a natural immune resistance for longer than three months,” he said. “But no one really knows for sure.”
Gregory said he knows many people who have caught COVID-19 in the last almost year — some have survived, some have not. Their ages have ranged from in their 30s to in their 90s, he said.
“You just don’t know how it’s going to hit someone. It’s real; it’s not another flu and it’s still active right here in the county,” he said. “Don’t mess with this virus. Get the shot when you can, but until you do, wear a mask and stay home. We survived but it was ugly.”
Statewide, there are a total of 181,060 cases of COVID-19 reported since mid-March of last year, 3,550 deaths and a total of 123,507 people classified as recovered, as of Tuesday, Feb. 16.
There have been 6,032 COVID-19 cases reported in Valencia County and 88 deaths, as of Tuesday, and of those who tested positive, 4,334 have been reported as recovered.
Currently in the county, people ages 20 to 29 have the highest number of cumulative cases, with 1,118, followed by those ages 30 to 39 with 1,009 cases. Youth zero to 19 account for 1,086 cases. Among people 40 to 69, there are 2,320 cases and in those 70 and older, there are 475.
In June, there were only 84 positive cases in Valencia and two deaths; of those positive 53.85 percent were men and 46.15 women. By mid-February, those percentages had reversed, with 52.75 percent of positive cases reported among women and 47.25 percent in men.
In the seven-day rolling average for Valencia County, the worst day was Nov. 25, an average of 92 new cases; the county’s single highest day for new cases reported was Nov. 19, with 142 cases.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, 16 new cases was reported in the county as well as one new death — a man in his 30s. There were a total of 308 new cases statewide and 12 additional deaths.
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.