Vaccines will be kept in freezers like this one at University of New Mexico Hospital. Courtesy of UNM.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in her Dec. 10 update that the state would receive 17,550 Pfizer vaccine doses this week, with the front-line healthcare workers having the opportunity to get it first.
An advisory panel recommended U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 10, with the FDA’s final approval expected soon.
Later this month, she said, more vaccines, made by Moderna, are expected, destined for patients and staffers at long-term care facilities, leading to “a very challenging two or three months,” before seeing how vaccines help flatten the curve of infections. The “curve” has flattened, it was said, but state officials are worried about the after-effects from Thanksgiving and the next four to five weeks.
The governor stressed a great gift for New Mexico businesses is getting tested: As more negative tests are recorded, the positivity rate percentage drops. With the state recently at 13 percent for positivity, she wants it down to 5 percent.
Still, she said Thursday, the state is in an “extreme-risk situation,” with another 23 deaths, 916 people hospitalized for COVID-19 complications and 159 on ventilators. Only 33 beds were available, statewide, for COVID-19 patients that day.
On the way, Lujan Grisham said, are “the most critically tough next several months … we’ve got to manage this virus better or we will overwhelm our health-care system.
“You’ve seen that we have improvements,” she concluded, even optimistically adding that large gatherings of 50-100 could again become a reality as soon as March or April.

Oral-swab COVID testing at RRHS
The State of New Mexico and Curative have expanded their oral-swab COVID-19 testing partnership efforts to include Rio Rancho High School as a new testing site.
The RRHS site is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, with entrance through the Performing Arts Center parking lot. To be tested there, pre-register at curative.com.
Trained local, state and New Mexico National Guard staff are present to ensure samples are properly collected, according to a New Mexico Department of Health press release.
The site at Balloon Fiesta Park is still open.
Curative is a California research company that created the first oral fluid test in the United States. The self-collected tests are demonstrated to be at least as accurate as nasopharyngeal test swabs, according to the release.
As with all COVID-19 tests in New Mexico, these tests will be administered for free.

COVID-19 vaccine
While COVID-19 vaccines are being developed as quickly as possible, routine processes and procedures remain in place to ensure the safety of any vaccine approved for use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These vaccines will not cause COVID-19, according to the CDC.
On Dec. 7, according to the New York Times, Pfizer and its partner, the German company BioNTech, announced preliminary results suggesting their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective.
The FDA set a bar of 50 percent efficacy for vaccine makers wanting to submit candidates for emergency authorization.
That vaccine won’t arrive in time to rescue the world from the next several months, when the virus will take more lives — unless the public takes more stringent health measures, said the Times. Lujan Grisham predicted it’ll take a year to determine if vaccines have helped quell the pandemic.
Here is a summary of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, according to the CDC:
• Vaccines are being evaluated in clinical trials and authorized only if they make it substantially less likely people will get COVID-19.
• Based the CDC’s knowledge about vaccines for other diseases, experts believe getting a novel coronavirus vaccine may help prevent serious illness if people get COVID-19.
• Vaccination may also protect people around an individual, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
• Experts continue to conduct more studies about the effect of vaccination on severity of illness, as well as its ability to keep people from spreading the coronavirus.
• COVID-19 can have life-threatening complications, and there is no way to know how it will affect any individual. And if someone gets sick, he or she could spread the disease to friends, family and others.
• Getting COVID-19 may offer some immunity. But experts don’t know how long this protection lasts — and the risk of severe illness and death outweighs any benefits of natural immunity.
• Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce the spread, but are not enough. Vaccines will work with the immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if exposed.
• The combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC recommendations will offer the best protection from COVID-19.

Latest Sandoval County data
Per the CDC, for the seven-day period ending Dec. 6, the total of new cases for Sandoval County was 777, a 20.9 percent increase over the previous seven-day period.
There were 10 deaths related to COVID-19 in the county. There were no deaths Dec. 6-8, and then four reported Dec. 9. All 10 of the deaths were people with underlying conditions in their 50s through 80s.
The positivity rate climbed 1.66 percent, to 13.25 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s rate dropped in the past two weeks, from 24 to 13 percent. The state is aiming for a 5 percent positivity rate, Lujan Grisham says.
The testing volume for the county was 4,489, down 30.62 percent.
One of Rio Rancho’s ZIP codes, 87124, ranked fourth in the state with 49 new cases reported Dec. 10. The rankings change daily.

More pandemic relief
Lujan Grisham said Thursday that financial pandemic relief is available, with deadlines approaching:
• $100 million for small businesses;
• $194 million in supplemental unemployment payments; and
• $15 million for emergency housing support.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer