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NM’s first COVID-19 death reported

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State officials announced Wednesday a man in Eddy County was New Mexico’s first reported fatality from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The man in his 70s was admitted Sunday to Artesia General Hospital, where he died Monday, Dr. Marshall Baca Jr., a member of the hospital’s incident command team, said Wednesday in a press call describing the events leading up to the man’s death.

The New Mexico Health Department earlier in the day announced the death of the man.

A state laboratory confirmed a positive COVID-19 test from the man late Tuesday, the press release said.

The man, Baca said, went to the hospital Sunday reporting weakness. The man, who had numerous underlying health conditions, denied having key symptoms of COVID-19 in the previous 14 days such as fever, shortness of breath or a cough.

Baca said it was possible though that the man might have misunderstood questions about the symptoms when he denied having them.

The man was placed into a room at the hospital after checking in Sunday, where nurses within minutes realized he had respiratory problems.

Protocols were then initiated and the staff put on personal protective equipment. A mask was also placed on the patient.

“There was exposure, but it was not prolonged exposure and our staff still had simple masks on,” Baca said.

Five hospital employees who came into contact with the man are now in quarantine.

Floor staff were then notified that the man was likely a COVID-19 patient and protocols were followed. Baca said no one was affected on the hospital floor who did not have personal protective equipment. The patient was then placed in a negative pressure isolation room.

The New Mexico Department of Health is currently investigating how the patient might have been infected.

Baca said that a March 12 visit to an outpatient clinic in Roswell might have been the source of the man’s infection. A doctor at the clinic has been in quarantine after traveling to a high-risk area, Baca said.

The man did not see the doctor when he went to the clinic, but a nurse practitioner.

When asked about the details of a possible investigation involving a Roswell outpatient clinic, David Morgan, media and social media manager with the Department of Health, said law requires the privacy of patients be protected, which includes any discussion about investigations.

In the last two weeks, the hospital has tested 35 patients for COVID-19.

“This has been the only positive patient we have had, every other one has been negative,” Baca said.

Artesia General has for the last two weeks been taking measures to protect patients and staff from possible exposure to the contagion, such as restricting access to the hospital by the public.

Able-bodied adults who come to the hospital and need to be seen must come in by themselves. Patients who require assistance can be accompanied by one family member.

The hospital has also canceled all elective surgeries and significantly reduced outpatient clinic visits.

In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham commented on the death of the man.

“I ask all New Mexicans to include the sick and their families in their prayers — as well as the health care workers and those others on the front lines helping protect us from this disease,” Lujan Grisham said. Lujan Grisham said the latest development demonstrates the seriousness of COVID-19.

“Across our state, across the country, we are all reeling from the effects of this virus. For anyone in our state who had not yet acknowledged this virus as the urgent public health crisis that it is, who has not accepted the extremely compelling need to stay home, today lays bare the very real, very life-or-death consequences of this disease,” she said.

New Mexico on Wednesday reported 13 additional positive tests for COVID-19 bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 112.

In addition to the man in Eddy County, the new cases include five in Bernalillo County; two in Rio Arriba County; one in Sandoval County; one in San Juan County and three in Santa Fe County, according to a press release issued by the Department of Health.

The numbers earlier released for Chaves County were amended, reducing the reported cases here from four to three.

“A previously reported positive case in Chaves County was determined to be a clerical error; the patient has been informed, and the state count has been amended to reflect that fact,” according to the press release.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com