April 9, 2020

Lujan Grisham gives update on COVID-19 response, preparations for ‘surge’

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Luis Sánchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivers a press conference from the senate finance committee room at the Capitol on Thursday April 9, 2020. Pool photo

The state of New Mexico has statewide community spread of COVID-19, and continues to prepare for a surge in cases that can overwhelm hospitals.

That was part of a Thursday update on New Mexico’s response and plans for the spread of the coronavirus that has spread throughout the world, including in every state in the United States.

The state continued to urge residents to remain home as much as possible, emphasizing that social distancing will lower the seriousness of the peak and help avoid the worst of projections from state models from taking place in New Mexico.

“Movement at all creates risk of transmitting COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said. “It’s as simple as that.”

She said state police have issued 15 cease-and-desist orders to companies that remained open despite not being deemed essential.

“Nobody wants to slow down the economy in the context of hurting any small business,” she said. “But we will take any precaution to make sure that we’re saving lives in our state.”

She similarly said that police can hand out misdemeanors to people who congregate in groups of more than five, breaking the state’s order that bars gatherings of more than five people.

This weekend in southern New Mexico, a group of offroaders gathered and posted photos on social media.

“If you can’t comply, we’re going to let you know by making sure it’s clear to everyone that we will enforce, because we have an obligation to save as many lives as possible, and this is how we do it,” she said.

Similarly, she said the state is discouraging visitors, including to national parks, which remain open, and to small towns. She said the state has provided diversions or roadblocks for communities and tribal nations if necessary.

When asked about a curfew, Lujan Grisham said she would not take any option off the table in the future, and noted many tribal nations throughout the state have implemented curfews as COVID-19 spreads quickly among their populations.

This is all to lower the state’s projected number of necessary hospital beds, intensive care unit beds and ventilators—and to reduce the number of projected deaths.

The state model projects that between 2,110 and 4,567 deaths over the next 12 months according to Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. The more social distancing that takes place, the lower the number will be, he said.

Scrase noted that New Mexico’s rate of deaths per confirmed case is 1.9 percent — lower then the world’s 6.1 percent rate and the United States’ 3.6 percent rate. But, Scrase noted, New Mexico is in the early stages of the pandemic compared to many areas around the world and the country.

Scrase mentioned that New Mexico uses its own model, which differs from the widely reported model from the University of Washington—which he called “way off” in New Mexico—and another University of Texas model. Scrase said New Mexico’s model allows adjustments for variables, including access to housing, food and medical care as well as the ability to add more granular information “to even more accurately predict what’s going to happen in each county and predict these surges.”

Self-isolation sites, long-term COVID-care sites

Lujan Grisham also announced the state opened long-term care sites for COVID-19 patients in an attempt to stop the spread in vulnerable communities.

The sites, funded through state emergency funds, are for first-responders, tribal or other COVID-19 positive patients. It would provide room, food, laundry services and more for eligible patients, along with check-ins by the state’s Behavioral Health Services Division.

Lujan Grisham said the state opened five facilities and is looking to open eight more such sites.

In addition, Lujan Grisham said the state is looking at creating a long-term COVID-19 care site for those who have tested positive at nursing homes or other similar sites to protect patients at nursing homes, make sure COVID-19-specific support is available for those who need it and ease burdens on hospitals.

Testing

New Mexico continues to improve on processing tests, something that Lujan Grisham said could be attributed to the state diversifying its efforts. 

She said the state didn’t just partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Indian Health services, but also used the state labs and partnered with the TriCore Reference Laboratories to process tests.

State Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said that Sandia National Laboratories would be going online with testing capacity on Thursday, and the state is hoping Los Alamos National Laboratory would also be able to do so soon.

The state labs also expanded their capacity, she said, and the state distributed Abbott Laboratories quick results machines, which are in short supply, to rural areas for quick diagnosis. 

Opening back up the economy

Some have called on New Mexico to loosen restrictions because of the economic impact, including the shuttering of small businesses and a dramatic rise in unemployment.

This has occurred throughout the nation in states with stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders.

And while she acknowledged the economic impact, Lujan Grisham said the time wasn’t right to consider loosening those restrictions.

“There isn’t a single American, and I assure you there isn’t a single New Mexican, who isn’t anxious for us to release these public health orders and try to have normalcy back to their lives and return to work,” Lujan Grisham said. “And it is way too soon to talk about when that is.”

She said the problem is that opening things back up too soon would lead to a resurgence of infections—and again possibly putting the state’s healthcare system at risk of being overrun.

Lujan Grisham mentioned that the state will provide $2.5 million in loans to businesses through the state’s LEDA program, and the state New Mexico Business Development Centers have counseled nearly 900 small businesses.

The state also has a $100 million program through the State Investment Council for loans of up to $10 million to medium-sized companies, of at least 40 employees.

The state has seen a flood of unemployment filings that overwhelmed the state’s phone systems. Lujan Grisham said the state will have call centers open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and encouraged those who can to instead go to jobs.state.nm.us to file for unemployment.