The governor and New Mexico health officials are optimistic that they have enough capacity to administer vaccines—with a bottleneck at the number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the state has also seen its fair share of hiccups, including an overwhelmed call center devoted to vaccinations because of unexpected demand from the public.
“We should stop underestimating that and we can do better, straight up. We can just do better,” she said. But she also placed blame on a much-criticized federal distribution of the vaccines to states. “The planning by the federal government was very poor,” the governor said.
Warning that the state of New Mexico has been stretched to its brink by the virus, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that the state would “reset” things by reimposing the strictest COVID-19 restrictions since the early days of the pandemic. “You should stay at home except for only the most essential trips for health, safety and welfare,” Lujan Grisham said. The new public health order will close all non-essential businesses and cap occupancy at essential businesses at 25 percent, or 75 people, whichever was lower. Non-essential businesses include places like gyms, restaurants, barbershops, spas and many other businesses that have been operating in recent months. Restaurants will be able to operate curbside service and delivery, but will not be able to serve in-person diners either indoor or outdoor during the shutdown.
“The state of New Mexico last week experienced its worst week for COVID-19 infections throughout the duration of the pandemic,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference on Tuesday with other state officials. She also acknowledged troubling patterns when it came to hospitalizations. Because of this, she announced further restrictions on businesses, including restaurants, beginning on Friday. But she did not put a stop to indoor dining—as long as restaurants complete the state’s COVID-safe certification program. Restaurants that complete the online program will be able to continue serving 25 percent of maximum capacity of indoor patrons, along with outdoor service.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase both offered up their own metaphors for the drastic increase of COVID-19 cases and how the state can lower that number.
“We’re in it for another nine months or longer, it is a marathon, I need everyone to stop at that marathon stand, this is not literally, figuratively,” Lujan Grisham said, citing health officials who said a COVID-19 vaccine may not be ready and widely available until next year. “Take that sip of water and just keep doing the work that you’re doing. Because if we don’t, we don’t even get to have conversations about schools and kids.”
Scrase likened the record number of COVID-19 cases in the state to a car on ice. “We can slam on the brakes today, and I hope we will slam on the brakes as individual citizens and families and communities in terms of COVID-safe practices, but it’s going to take two weeks for the car to stop because people who are already infected will develop symptoms,” he said. Both Lujan Grisham and Scrase’s analogies were in reference to several days of significantly higher numbers of new cases, even than the previous peak in cases in the state this summer.
Speaking from the governor’s residence because of a quarantine due to a possible COVID-19 exposure, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that New Mexico is “at extreme risk of uncontrollable spread” of the disease as cases continue to increase throughout New Mexico. Lujan Grisham said both she and her fiancé tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday for a second time, though they would remain quarantined for a full two weeks, in accordance with state health officials’ guidance. “When you have uncontrollable spread, where we can’t manage the outbreaks, you become quickly a potential epicenter for the country and you overwhelm your healthcare workers, your hospital services and we have far more, many more, deaths and our mortality rates just keep rising,” Lujan Grisham said. She urged New Mexicans to abide by COVID-safe practices and emphasized staying away from large gatherings and avoiding leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. While she did not make any changes to the state’s public health order, which will expire next weekend, she did say that things like K-12 sports and club sports remain prohibited, except for limited practices with groups of ten or fewer individuals with no contact.
If all New Mexico residents and workplaces follow the guidelines in the state’s public health orders, there would be no need to impose further restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said on Monday.
This comes as the state sees an increase in the number of confirmed cases in the state and other metrics tracked by the state move in the wrong direction. In an update on the tagging criteria by the state, Scrase said that he expects the state will be outside its gating criteria for the daily number of confirmed cases—and the state remains above its gating criteria for spread rate. “That trend is headed upwards,” Scrase said of the daily number of cases. “And today’s counts are going to bring those counts up as well.”
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported 178 new cases of COVID-19. The state uses the date of specimen collection for its gating criteria, which differs from the date cases are reported.
The numbers the state used for its gating criteria show that there are 152 daily cases, as of Sept.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials had a largely positive press conference related to COVID-19 on Thursday. While the governor addressed further discussions of further easing restrictions, she said the focus is currently on in-person education and childcare.
“Focus is on education. Number one priority,” Lujan Grisham said. “Because we know if we can do that successfully, we know we can do more business openings.”
But it was because of the continued improvement in numbers that officials can even consider starting a conversation. “All of our success is really behavior by New Mexico residents,” Lujan Grisham said.
The state is getting ready to allow some elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction next week, as part of a hybrid model with remote learning, the state Public Education Department Secretary said in an online press conference on Thursday. “We’ve been anxiously awaiting the point where we can get back into schools, with the public health conditions and the systems that we’ve put in place to support those conditions are in place,” PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “We’ve taken a very deliberate approach to this because we know we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re seeing big outbreaks or we’re seeing some of the issues that have happened elsewhere.”
The state will allow districts and charter schools in counties with under 5 percent positivity rate and under eight daily cases per 100,000 residents, both on 14-day rolling averages, to reopen if they wish. Additionally, districts and charter schools in those counties that qualify must have PED-approved plans for reopening, including strict COVID-safe protocols, to get the go-ahead to reopen. Seven counties did not meet either goal, as of the data from Aug.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham further outlined the changes to the state’s public health order, which will go into effect on Saturday and last through at least September 18, and officials provided updates on preparations for a return to in-person learning for some elementary school students in September. But the state Human Services Department Secretary, Dr. David Scrase, warned against complacency. “As we begin reopening, this is not an invitation to go back to everything we’ve always done,” he said. He said it was part of a small, gradual reopening. The easing of restrictions includes allowing indoor dining for the first time in over six weeks.
The state Department of Health announced 208 new cases of COVID-19, a second-straight day of increases after reported cases plummeted earlier in the week. The state also announced five additional deaths related to COVID-19. Also on Thursday, health officials said that New Mexicans shouldn’t expect changes to the state’s current public health order before it is set to expire on August 28.
The number of cases exceeded 200 newly reported cases for the first time since August 9. Over a quarter of the newly reported cases, 59, came from Bernalillo County. Lea County, which has had among the highest newly reported cases per capita over the past week, reported 27 new cases.