UPDATE: After receiving the number of recovered COVID-19 patients in Valencia County as of May 22 earlier this week, the News-Bulletin filed a second records request on Thursday, June 11, asking for the current number of recovered patients in the county.
While the Department of Health 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.
Follow this link to go directly to the portal that breaks down information by county and zip code.
As of 11 a.m., Saturday, June 13, there have been 6,636 tests done in Valencia County, of which 87 were positive. Of those, 56 patients have been designated as recovered and two have died.
While the New Mexico Department of Health provides most of its COVID-19-related data by county and zip code, one piece has remained out of sight since the pandemic came to New Mexico.
The number of people who have recovered from the coronavirus 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 request with the DOH under the state Inspection of Public Records Act on Friday, May 22.
The DOH responded on Wednesday, June 10, with recovery numbers for Valencia County and all counties in New Mexico with positive cases.
As of Friday, May 22, when Valencia County had 71 total cases, DOH reported there were 41 patients classified as recovered.
The News-Bulletin has filed a second IPRA request for the most up-to-date recovery numbers.
Belen City Councilor Robert Noblin had also made inquiries about the number of recovered patients in the county, writing to the governor and lieutenant governor, receiving no response.
When told the number of recovered patients as of May 22, Noblin said that was important information for the mayor and councilors 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 lease 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.
In Valencia County, as of mid-day Thursday, June 11, the DOH county-by-county portal — which can be accessed at cv.nmhealth.org — showed there were 84 total positive cases, two deaths and 6,464 tests done.
The positive cases in Valencia County are split fairly evenly between men and women, 53.85 and 46.15 percent, respectively.
The highest number of cases in the county are in people 50-19, with 19 positive cases, followed by 40-49, with 12 cases.
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.