Governor says state 'on track'
May 27, 2020
New Mexico's governor signaled during a briefing last week the state is meeting or close to meeting several criteria and was “on track” to reopen dine-in restaurants, salons, gyms and malls June 1 after they were ordered closed for weeks by the coronavirus pandemic.
Human Services Secretary Richard Scrase said during the briefing the spread rate of COVID-19 in New Mexico had dropped below the 1.15 target rate, to 1.12, for the first time.
The southeast part of the state, which includes Quay County, saw an uptick in the rate he attributed to cases that had spilled over from neighboring Texas.
Scrase said the state also is meeting the criteria for intensive-care bed availability and a seven-day supply of personal protective equipment for health-care workers. The only goal New Mexico hadn't met was the COVID-19 testing capacity of 5,000 a day, but Scrase expressed satisfaction with the current rate of 4,400.
With that, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said it is not the time for residents to slacken on social distancing, wearing facial coverings and other safeguards against the virus. Keeping the spread under control remains important to realize a projected June 1 reopening for those businesses, she said.
Answering a question later in the briefing, the governor said she anticipated instituting a 50% occupancy cap of dine-in restaurants by June 1 along with several COVID-19 safeguards. She said the previous week she anticipated an additional easing of occupancy restrictions for churches, motels and hotels at that time, as well.
“We are following the public health data, not what other states are doing,” she said of her imminent reopening decisions. “I'm not looking at Arizona. I'm not looking at Texas. ... We're on track.”
Lujan Grisham sounded a note of caution because of a large recent increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the border town of El Paso, Texas, which she said would put Dona Ana County and the rest of New Mexico at risk for an upsurge in cases. El Paso reported more than 2,300 cases and 58 deaths as of Monday.
Scrase reiterated that caution during a brief video message Saturday, saying state health officials were worried about the spread of COVID-19 in southern New Mexico, especially near El Paso.
Scrase said during the briefing there was a strong correlation with disease spread and travel. The governor urged New Mexicans to refrain from unnecessary trips to neighboring states.
“If you have lunch in Lubbock, you're creating risk in Clovis,” Lujan Grisham said.
She said the governor of Texas has halted scheduled reopenings of several cities because of coronavirus problems there. That includes the Amarillo metro area, which saw a delay in implementing the second phase of its reopening because of an increase in cases. Amarillo totaled more than 2,200 active cases as of Saturday.
In an answer to reporter's question, Lujan Grisham said the New Mexico Legislature would hold a special session on June 18 to deal with state budget problems caused by COVID-19 and an oil-price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. She said she anticipated the session would be completed by that weekend.
The number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico rose by 93 on Monday to a total of 7,026. The death toll rose by three, to 320.
Scrase cited a University of Glasgow study during the briefing Wednesday that the average lifespan lost is more than 10 years for each COVID-19 death. The average male killed by the virus lost about 13 years from his lifespan; each woman who died from it lost 11 years.
A total of 216 remain hospitalized by the disease in New Mexico. A total of 2,522 were deemed to have recovered from COVID-19.
The number of coronavirus cases in Quay County remained at five, with the newest reported May 12.
In the U.S., more than 1.6 million confirmed cases were reported, with more than 98,000 deaths as of Monday afternoon.
Food stamps online
The state’s Human Services Department announced last week that families that receive food stamps can use them to purchase eligible food online.
To get started with online purchasing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants need to connect directly with the online retailer such as Amazon or Walmart. Benefits cannot be used to pay for other associated charges such as delivery fees.
The agency applied for the new online purchasing program from USDA Food and Nutrition Service to strengthen food security for families during the “stay at home” directives.