The state’s second-in-command said New Mexicans have done tremendous work in helping slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and officials are looking to a cautious, phased approach to reopening the state for business.
Lt. Governor Howie Morales said New Mexico was one state that moved quickly and aggressively to put precautions in place to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Before the first case, there were discussions on the amount of testing needed,” the lieutenant governor said. “The federal government delayed and didn’t take this seriously, so we saw a lag in testing.”
There were also concerns about the amount of personal protective equipment each state was getting, he said, adding is was a mistake for the president to say each state was on its own in securing PPE.
Officials continue to work towards testing everyone for COVID-19, he said.
“Initially, we had to do testing of people with symptoms only,” Morales said.
Thanks to $6 million secured by New Mexico’s federal delegation through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, more commonly known as the CARES Act, the state was able to expand testing and contact tracing.
There are now 64 test sites across the state in all 33 counties.
“This allows us to understand what is taking place and identify hot spots,” Morales said.
Earlier this week, testing was expanded to include all workers in the state, including government employees at the state, county, municipal and federal levels, utility and construction workers, grocery and pharmacy employees, retail and wholesale, anyone in food service or other service industries and any New Mexican at work who would like access to a test, symptomatic or not
A drive-up test clinic will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Lovelace Hospital in downtown Albuquerque.
Testing locations can be found on the state’s dedicated COVID-19 website, cv.nmhealth.org.
While the state would like to provide more tests and faster tests, Morales said it must be done with caution.
“On a daily basis, we get calls about testing companies and the improvements taking place,” he said. “But we also see many cases around the country where testing has been inaccurate; we want to make sure we are very careful about moving too quickly in that direction.”
In terms of preventing the spread of the virus, Morales said there was no doubt New Mexicans have done a good job of social distancing and staying home.
“And saving lives. We have flattened the curve and you realize that when you see the projected deaths compared to what’s happened,” he said. “New Mexican’s have done their part.”
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is projecting 382 deaths in the state through Aug. 4, down from a previously estimated 500-plus deaths. As of Tuesday, May 12, there were 219 COVID-19 related deaths in New Mexico.
Morales said people do need to recognize as more people are tested, there will be more positive cases.
“As we look at that data, we know through more testing how to best provide assistance and support,” he said.
Although the current health order and its stay-at-home requirements last until May 15, Morales said the governor wanted a reopening strategy in place in advance.
“So when we reopen in phases, we have thoroughly vetted options,” he said.
In late April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham formed the Economic Recovery Council made up of business and labor leaders from across the state.
The council’s function is to develop a phased plan to reopen businesses around the state, some of which has already happened.
“We have eased some restrictions already — parks are open, businesses can provide curb-side options, golf courses are open,” he said. “That’s some of the work they’ve done.”
The decision to require non-essential businesses to close was not a political one, the lieutenant governor said.
“There has been a tremendous amount of loss in the lives of the people impacted health wise. There is no conspiracy; it’s not something we thought up,” Morales said. “Every state in the country is experiencing this, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can for the health and well being of every New Mexican.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.