‘The virus is winning’: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces new COVID-19 measures for New Mexico

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (AP file photo)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new measures to combat COVID-19 during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are in a very dangerous state right now in New Mexico — the virus is winning,” Grisham said during a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon. “It really is spreading exponentially, and it’s really because we let our guard down.”

During the briefing, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services Department Dr. David Scrase explained the average number of cases is increasing daily in all age groups that have concerning implications. 

“It’s not all about where we are right now,” said Scrase, “but where we’ll be in a few weeks.” 

The New Mexico Department of Public Health created gating criteria for reopening using eight targets: 

  1. Rate of spread 10-day rolling average
  2. New Mexico daily cases 7-day rolling average
  3. Number of COVID-19 tests per day 7-day rolling average
  4. COVID-19 test positivity rate 7-day rolling average
  5. Time from COVID-19 positive test result to case isolation
  6. Time from COVID-19 positive test result to quarantine of case contacts
  7. Adult ICU beds occupied across 7 New Mexico Hub Hospitals
  8. 7-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) across 7 New Mexico Hub Hospitals

As of Tuesday, five of the eight targets were missed, and Scrase warned that these trends tend to have a sharp upward curve. 

Scrase also said cases are three times higher than what was anticipated by New Mexico health officials. 

A rapid response task force was created earlier in the pandemic and has conducted more than 4,800 tests since May. The volume of cases has increased over the last six weeks — officials say this is indicative of the virus traveling through the community and workplaces. 

Beginning on Friday, Oct. 23, new measures will be implemented throughout New Mexico to stymie the spread of COVID-19 as the public health risks become increasingly dire. 

The New Mexico Environment Department is launching a Rapid Response COVID-19 Watchlist designed to make COVID-19 data more transparent and accessible by informing the public and the media of businesses that have a high number of cases.

The goal of the watchlist is to help the public identify COVID-19 hot spots, not punish or shame businesses. 

If a business records four rapid response visits over a two week period, the business must then cease operations for 14 days in an effort to prevent further transmission. Businesses subject to the new measure include restaurants, bars, as well as retail and grocery stores, places of lodging such as hotels, and close-contact businesses such as gyms, hair salons and nail spas. 

According to Grisham, the crackdown is an effort of the state to avoid further economic disruption by permitting businesses to successfully adhere to safety measures to remain open while simultaneously tending to businesses with a high frequency of virus transmission. 

Other measures taking effect on Friday will require bars and restaurants to complete the New Mexico Safe Certification training program to offer indoor dining services at 25-percent occupancy. 

Bars and restaurants must consent to spot testing employees while state officials target businesses for testing in high-risk counties. Additionally, these businesses must maintain a log of customers who opt to dine-in at the business for three weeks in order to support contact tracers. 

The deadline for bars and restaurants to become certified is Oct. 30, and businesses that fail to do so will not be permitted to offer in-door dining. 

In order to keep the economy viable, Grisham is implementing an order that will require retail spaces to close by 10 p.m. every night.

“Please stay home,” said Grisham. “Please, when you must go out, wear a mask, and avoid groups. Shop alone – don’t bring the whole family. Over the next week, two weeks, three weeks, please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home. The visit to friends can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs. The visit to family can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs. Take care and take caution, and we will successfully protect our hospitals and health care workers.”

State-run museums and historical sites will also close on Friday.

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