Governor declares public health emergency over COVID-19 after first positive tests in state

Note: This is an updated story, including a new headline; the original text is available below. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency Wednesday morning just after her office announced that three residents tested positive for COVID-19, or coronavirus. They are the first three positive tests in the state. The tests are being […]

Governor declares public health emergency over COVID-19 after first positive tests in state

Note: This is an updated story, including a new headline; the original text is available below.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency Wednesday morning just after her office announced that three residents tested positive for COVID-19, or coronavirus. They are the first three positive tests in the state. The tests are being sent to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmation.

Update: Wednesday evening, the New Mexico Department of Health announced a fourth presumptive positive case, a woman in her 60s in Santa Fe County who recently traveled to New York City.

“If you are sick, stay home. Wash your hands, use antibacterial [soap],” she said. Minimize your contact and exposure to other individuals

But, Lujan Grisham said, New Mexican’s should stay calm. 

“No one in New Mexico should be panicked,” she said.

Lujan Grisham stressed numerous times in a press conference the importance of minimizing human to human contact, adding that anyone who is showing symptoms of the virus, should not physically go to their doctor, but call instead. She also provided a state hotline at 855-600-3453 for those to call. 

“My advice is, frankly, any public gathering, community gathering: don’t go,” she said.

Lujan Grisham also said the state was “proactively and aggressively cancelling large events that we have control over,” saying the Gathering of Nations PowWow, scheduled for late April, would be postponed.

She also suggested local governments and private entities also cancel or postpone events with large gatherings.

The state also banned all out of state travel by state employees, Lujan Grisham said.

While she didn’t issue a mandate, the governor asked that New Mexicans seriously consider cancelling any travel plans in the near future. 

Already, the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools banned most travel.

According to the state Department of Health, a husband and wife in Socorro in their 60s who recently traveled to Egypt and a woman in her 70s in Bernalillo County who recently traveled to the New York City area all tested positive. All three are self-isolated in their homes.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced that he activated the Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center.

“We are activating our Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center to coordinate the response, banning out-of-state travel for all employees, and readying to enact telework policies,” Keller said in a statement. “In local government we are on the front line of civic life. It is our responsibility to answer this call to action by continuing our operations that the public relies on every day. So many of our City workers are the public’s safety net, from police and paramedics, to sanitation and 9-1-1 operators. Our City leaders and workers are mobilized to support the most vulnerable in our community.

In response to the first positive tests in New Mexico, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall issued a joint statement calling on the federal government to do more to address the growing epidemic.

“Federal agencies and the Trump administration need to do more to ensure the widespread availability of testing and monitoring, to effectively and transparently communicate with state agencies and to assure the public that there is seamless coordination in the federal government’s response to COVID-19,” the statement said. “Congress is also actively considering economic relief measures that we believe should focus on workers and small businesses that face serious financial impacts from the virus and the necessary public health response measures. We are wishing a full recovery to these patients, and we urge New Mexicans to follow the advice of trusted federal, state and local public health officials to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe.”

State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, pushed back.

“The governor’s Health Emergency declaration is already having huge negative effects on our state,” Sharer said in a statement. “The governor has touted tourism as the way to move away from the fossil fuel industry that currently funds the state budget. As of today’s emergency declaration, she is actively destroying that industry as well.”

Sharer said that more people die from the flu every year than who are currently confirmed infected with COVID-19 and said, “The panic the governor induced in New Mexico has the potential to go on and on.”

State Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Socorro, said she has been in contact with state officials.

“I want to reassure the people of Socorro County that we are doing everything in our power to help combat the spread of this virus,” she said. “I have had several meetings with NM Department of Health Secretary Kunkel, and NM Aging and Long Term Secretary Hotrum-Lopez and am confident they are taking the necessary measures to help prevent the spread of this virus in New Mexico. I am urging the Lujan Grisham administration to continue to work closely with federal authorities and to quickly access any federal dollars to help assist in this effort. While we all can do our part by taking the preventative measures to limit the spread of this virus, it is imperative that the state leverage all available federal support for this effort.”

According to the Department of Health website, as of March 11, the state has tested 90 people for coronavirus.

Lujan Grisham said she is confident the state, with the help of private labs, can accommodate testing going forward and that she does not anticipate a shortage of tests.

Update: Added information from the City of Albuquerque and statements from State Rep. Gail Armstrong from State Sen. Bill Sharer.


Original story:

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday morning that three residents tested possible for COVID-19, or coronavirus. They are the first three positive tests in the state.

According to the state Department of Health, a husband and wife in Socorro in their 60s who recently traveled to Egypt and a woman in her 70s in Bernalillo County who recently traveled to the New York City area all tested positive. All three are self-isolated in their homes.

“The state Department of Health has been preparing for this day for weeks now,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “I will be announcing additional information and steps New Mexicans can and should take to protect themselves and our communities very, very shortly. In the meantime, I will reiterate that New Mexicans can take preventive actions to protect themselves and mitigate the potential spread. We will address this public health challenge together.”

According to the Department of Health website, as of March 11, the state has tested 87 people for coronavirus.

According to the New York Times, over 1,000 people have tested positive for the virus in the United States and at least 31 have died.

States have taken different approaches to containing the virus. Multiple governors have declared states of emergency. Washington, the hardest-hit state so far, is expected to announce a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people, including sporting events.

The governor will hold a press conference later Wednesday morning with more information. It will be livestreamed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GovMLG/.

This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

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