NM state epidemiologist leaving next month

New Mexico likely seeing thousands of new COVID cases per day

By: - June 20, 2022 5:05 am

Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, a top infectious disease expert in the New Mexico government is leaving next month.

New Mexico State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross will leave the Department of Health on July 10, acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase told reporters during a news conference last week.

“She’s going to spend the summer with her family,” Scrase said. “We’re just so privileged to have her here and sad to see her go.”

Scrase said Ross is an incredible leader and a “great thought partner” to him.

“There’s probably nothing I think about the pandemic that hasn’t been informed by my discussions with her,” Scrase said of Ross.

He said they are supported by the state epidemiology team who have worked “many, many, many weekends here since the beginning of the pandemic.” He said New Mexico has been a national leader among state governments’ pandemic responses and credited that to Ross’ work managing large amounts of data and sharing it with the CDC.

DOH spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter said the department is advertising for Ross’ replacement.

The state epidemiologist’s job involves overseeing the Epidemiology and Response Division at DOH, using health data to support public health policy, and advising the health secretary and senior leadership on epidemiology, evaluation, scientific evidence and health policy, according to the advertisement for the position.

“Leadership will designate an acting person when she leaves,” McGinnis Porter said.

The announcement that Ross is leaving DOH comes when New Mexico is reporting a seven-day rolling average of 929 new cases per day.

But the true count is much higher, somewhere between 2,787 and 9,290 cases per day, according to DOH estimates. Scrase said he thinks reported cases should be multiplied by between three and 10 times to get the true count, in part because testing is mostly being done at home, and only a fraction of those tests that come up positive are actually reported to the state.

By the beginning of July, an average of nearly five people in New Mexico are projected to die from COVID each day, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.

The center’s model predicts that the average daily death rate throughout July would be reduced by about half — if 80% of New Mexico residents were to always wear masks in public.

Consistent mask wearing in New Mexico as of Thursday was only 22%, and is projected to decrease to 10% by mid-July, according to the center.

The Washington Post reported in May that the U.S. overall could see 100 million coronavirus infections and a potentially significant wave of deaths this fall and winter.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.