Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to test every New Mexican for coronavirus.
Speaking on MSNBC’s news program The 11th Hour on Monday night, the governor said while New Mexico is among the top states in terms of testing residents per capita, it “should be doing a lot more.”
Her spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, said in an email Tuesday the “quickest way out of this [crisis] is universal testing ... everyone gets tested, we know the exact extent of the disease.”
He said such an expansive plan requires federal approval of test kits and related supplies, but “we’re working on how to do it ourselves anyway and expand capacity as much as we can.”
He said he does not yet have more details on how that might work.
The Governor’s Office announced Tuesday that 17 more people tested positive for the virus, bringing New Mexico’s total to 100. Two of the new cases were in Santa Fe County, which has 14 cases.
The governor’s Monday interview with television news host Brian Williams came the same day the COVID Tracking Project, a test-tracking program created by a medical-data startup and two journalists at the Atlantic, published a map showing how each state is faring in terms of testing numbers.
As of Monday, New Mexico had tested 5,386 people, or 2,569 per million residents, placing it third among the 50 states and the District of Columbia — behind Washington state at 4,055 per million and New York at 3,156 per million.
Ohio was last on the list, with 42 people tested per million.
Several state lawmakers on Tuesday praised the governor’s efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Lujan Grisham’s actions are “setting a national model on how to deal with this. Her willingness to push, to ramp up the number of tests, to find medical equipment wherever she can, her willingness to push the White House for help, is why the number of cases is not skyrocketing here.”
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the governor “had done a good job under the circumstances. ... I think we’re doing all we can do to keep it under control and hopefully in the next two weeks it will peak and we will get on the downhill side.”
Ingle likes the idea of testing all of the state’s roughly 2 million residents but questioned how it might be done. “If people don’t feel sick and they’ve been staying home and there’s no exposure in their counties that they are aware of, they probably don’t have a real urge to get tested,” he said. “There’s got to be a will.”
Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Gallup, said the state has “been pretty proactive” in addressing the public health crisis. But she said there are still testing gaps in her district, which includes McKinley and San Juan counties, which had a total of 10 cases as of Tuesday. She said many living in that area, which is heavily populated by Native Americans, do not have running water and cannot follow recommended safety procedures such as washing their hands throughout the day.
She likes the idea of testing everyone but said she does not know how the state would do that, given a lot of people pass through her region to somewhere else. “I would hate to see people move from one place to another if they are exposed to the virus,” she said.
Meanwhile, officials at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center said they have conducted 200 coronavirus tests. Five patients who tested positive are quarantined at home, hospital officials said.
Lillian Montoya, president and CEO of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said hospital staff are monitoring two patients who are “under investigation but not positive” for the virus. The hospital, which has 200 patient beds, is at about 60 percent capacity now, she said.
In her interview on MSNBC, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is using up-to-date data to expand its capacity to test patients for infections and restrict people from gathering in large groups or going to work. “We are a state doing better, I think, in terms of our per capita representation of testing,” she said on The 11th Hour segment, called “What other states can learn from New Mexico’s coronavirus response.”
The governor told Williams the state’s efforts to track and test the virus are helped by the presence of two of the country’s national laboratories — Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories — and the research ability and instruments they have to address the issue.
She spoke of the state’s decision to provide free testing to everyone, regardless of their economic standing, and to cover the costs of treatment for those who are uninsured.
She ended the nearly five-minute segment with a warning: While health and government officials are chasing the virus “where the largest number of cases are. ... You better slow the spread in the rest of the country, or the whole country is going to look like that.”