Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the current COVID-19 explosion the most dire crisis New Mexico has ever seen, yet she stopped short of taking further actions to restrict the economy as she did earlier this year when the state had far fewer cases.

New Mexico reported 672 new cases Thursday, the second-straight day of record-breaking data. The state’s key COVID-19 numbers — including the average case rate and hospitalizations — also have doubled or more in the past three weeks.

“This is the most serious emergency that New Mexico has ever faced,” Lujan Grisham said in her weekly news conference broadcast on Facebook. “The health risks are extreme.”

The unsettling comments came as Lujan Grisham was set to alter her administration’s public health restrictions Friday, adding new rules aimed at curbing a recent dramatic spike in coronavirus numbers.

The Governor’s Office earlier this week announced the new restrictions beginning Friday. They include reducing maximum hotel occupancy rates, lowering the allowable size of mass gatherings, and forcing food and drink establishments serving alcohol to close at 10 p.m. every night.

The state also will require people arriving from “higher-risk states” to self-quarantine for a period of no less than 14 days, or for the duration of their stay in New Mexico.

The existing public health order, due to expire Friday, also will be extended.

But the governor did not put into place tougher mandates.

Though she said recent case numbers would “warrant” even stricter restrictions, Lujan Grisham said it was too soon to return to the full-scale shutdowns that New Mexico saw earlier in the pandemic, such as prohibiting indoor dining and retail activities.

She said she hoped the state could be successful at managing COVID-19 without resorting to more severe measures that would deal an even harsher blow to the economy.

“If we do everything we’re asking you to do — the new public health order tomorrow [Friday] and going back to the basics — the numbers will gradually come down,” she said.

Still, New Mexico’s nationally praised success at fighting the virus has deteriorated in recent weeks, with the seven-day rolling average of new cases spiking to 404 as of Oct. 9 — well above the state’s target of 168 and double where it was late last month.

The test positivity rate, which measures how many people who are tested for COVID-19 turn out to have the disease, has risen to 5.2 percent. The statistic was 3.4 percent at the beginning of the month and is above the state’s target of 5 percent.

“New Mexico’s been leading the Southwest in low positivity rates, controllable transmission of COVID-19,” the governor said. “And now we’re in those columns where we’re leading the country — if not in the No. 1 position, nearing it — for uncontrollable spread.”

The state’s COVID-19 transmission rate is now 1.25, higher than the target of 1.05. A rate below 1 would mean the virus is in decline rather than spreading.

“We are moving so rapidly in the wrong direction,” Lujan Grisham said.

Meanwhile, the number of occupied intensive care beds in the state increased from 226 on Oct. 4 to 290 on Oct 12, while the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Mexico has risen 74 percent so far this month, to 150.

Two of the three major Albuquerque hospitals are above 100 percent of their ICU capacity, Human Services Department Secretary David Scrase said Thursday.

“Remember when we used to talk about alternative care sites and field hospitals?” Scrase said. “We still have that equipment. We’re still thinking about how to best use it.”

Scrase added he was concerned about case numbers rising across all age groups, noting he was “really worried” about increases among people over the age of 65.



“This is the slide that now is keeping me awake every night,” Scrase said, displaying showing a graph of case numbers by age groups.

Scrase pushed back at the notion that the spike in new cases was due to increased testing levels in New Mexico. The state has now performed more than 1 million tests, and it was carrying out more than 7,600 per day as of Oct. 13.

“This is not about more testing,” he said. “This is about the rapid spread of the disease.”

The spread of the virus at New Mexico businesses is also accelerating.

Last week, the state had 611 rapid responses, led by the health care and retail industries. That figure was up from 419 the prior week and a 60 percent increase since the end of September.

A rapid response occurs when state agencies contact employers after one or more of their employees tests positive for COVID-19. In an effort to prevent further spread of the disease, businesses are typically required to temporarily halt operations, test employees, disinfect workplaces and implement COVID-19-safe practices.

Lujan Grisham said the state might not have the “bandwidth” to keep responding at the same rate to positive tests at businesses given the “exponential increase” in cases.

“Businesses will have to stay closed longer until we can get to you,” she said. “And this is also incredibly problematic for our economic recovery.”

In March, New Mexico was one of the first states in the nation to put a stay-at-home order in place that closed all nonessential businesses and instructed people to remain in their homes. In late May, as virus trends improved, the governor announced the partial reopening of restaurants, salons, gyms and other businesses for June 1.

The pandemic and its corresponding shutdowns led to a precipitous economic downturn. The state lost over 100,000 jobs in April alone, and only one-third of them had been recovered as of August, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.

While tax revenue has dropped less than originally expected, industries such as leisure and hospitality have been hit hard.

As in recent weeks, the governor repeated state residents haven’t been doing enough to slow the spread of the disease as people become exhausted by a pandemic that has now worn on for seven months. She exhorted people to “just do better.”

“You know, we let up,” the governor said. “We succumbed to the national rhetoric that it’s not as bad of a problem.”

At the virtual news conference, Lujan Grisham and Scrase showed a photo of a packed local bar with people flouting social-distancing guidelines.

“This notion that we’re all invincible is wrong,” the governor said.

Neighboring states continue to pose a problem as well, as the Texas border city of El Paso reported more than 700 in one day, Lujan Grisham said.

“Please do not go to El Paso,” the governor urged.

Lujan Grisham warned earlier this week she could reinstate more stringent restrictions on businesses “in the near future” if case numbers do not improve. That would include further restricting indoor dining service and rolling back occupancy limits at retail and dining establishments, her office said.

She again stressed Thursday those types of restrictions could return soon if Friday’s new restrictions fail to rein in the spread.

“If we don’t lower the numbers, none of that would be enough,” she said.

Reporter

Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

(30) comments

Claire Peterson

Dear Gov: If it wasn't 'too soon' to call for restrictions when the virus first hit New Mexico with a limited number of cases, why is it 'too soon' now that we are seeing record-breaking levels? Disappointed in you, girl.

Arlene D.Kock

Pretty simple....if someone pees at one end of the community pool, everyone at the far corner of the pool won’t go untouched....

Mike Johnson

The above picture shows a blood sample COVID test. Those are not the same as the nasal swab test and is not relevant or scientific to mix the two. Very misleading numbers due to this.

Maxwell Vertical

Hospitalizations aren’t anywhere near the peak of last spring. Even then the healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed. Many predicted a second wave. The governor had months to prepare for one. If the state isn't ready it’s on her.

Orlie Romero

Embarrassing, NM and many democratic states look like clowns, walking around wearing masks, yet #s have skyrocket yet no more deaths matching, hmmm. Some people are so weak and controlled, thank God for a man like Trump, leads you to the light but you have to have the smarts to follow.

If you believe in quarantines and economic destruction for Covid or AKA common cold are still the answer than their is no help for you.

Mark Stahl

It's not the people walking around with masks that spread the virus, it's the people walking around without masks, like trump. Trump certainly needed an awful amount of medical care to recover from a common cold, care that you or I would not get. The virus will continue to spread as long as people ignore the science and buy the blather instead.

Orlie Romero

So mark, how do you explain 80% of those that had or have Covid wear masks? How did newly revealed Biden staff contract it, how is it the #s have quadrupled yet deaths have not?

I know some of you are intimidated by Trumps masculinity but he is a realist and true leader, get on the Trump 🚊

Tom Ribe

Orlie: This nonsense from the Trump supporters will kill people. Your fantasy, from your uneducated president, is extremely dangerous. Wake up. Get out of your partisan anger and help us control this. You could die. You could die.

Tanya Chesire

2 truths:

Diseases kill pepole.

Polical leaders are not doctors and can not cure diseases.

Shawn Chafins

👍

Mona Bryant

Frustration runs rampant for reasons individual to each of us. Whether I believe this pandemic is political, financial or realistic the outcome is still the same. Its attacking our lives and it needs to cease. Does anyone really believe its intentional or that we are not all in this together? It is affecting us all.

Pres Trump and Gov Lujan Grisham had no more notice thsn we did that covid was coming. We are all learning how to cope and overcome. Lets not be so quick to judge. We are all buying packaged masks that are Made in China! What is really coming in that we wrap our faces in? Lets find the sources and do something about THAT.

Shawn Chafins

👍

Stefanie Beninato

Sorry, Mona. The Liar/Denier/Slayer/Spreader in Chief knew about the virus at least by Feb. Instead of coming up with a plan, he wanted his numbers to look good. And of course, he through other federal officials notified big time investors who have now made millions selling "short"==that is knowing the prices on stock would drop once we all realized how dangerous this virus is.

Regina Bryant

Well said!

Andrew Lucero

I’m sorry, but this is all smoke and mirrors… Who exactly is going to enforce the 14 day quarantine? Unless you shut EVERYTHING down, it is 100% unenforceable.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Exactly, the Empress has no clothes......

Lee DiFiore

Grishy's health restrictions aren't working but she won't do anything big before the election in fear of having that stink splash back on some democratic candidates seeking office.

Khal Spencer

Well, both of us being senior citizens, we will just continue to hunker down, since it seems we can't trust a lot of people to exercise common sense. People down the street from us had a huge party a couple weeks ago. Lots of big cowboy hats, no cattle.

Maya McDonald

Please close the state and our borders. I’m terrified. I’m 71 years old

Mike Johnson

I think this Guv has finally realized how little people listen to her or respect what she says. Time to go Mich.

Joan Conrow

Mike, this isn't about listening to the governor. It's about using common sense and respecting others. This same advice has come from the world's top health officials. Stop making it a political issue and recognize that this is a public health issue!

Mike Johnson

Leaders lead and people respect and trust them, politicians lecture, scold, order, and belittle people who don't agree with them. Which do you see in MLG? I know what I see, and obviously so do many people in NM given her poor leadership and results here.

Khal Spencer

Mike is right in saying the Governor is losing credibility. The rest of us are being told to hunker down like civilians living in caves during the siege of Vicksburg. Meanwhile, the UNM football team, rife with covid (see related article) gets to travel out of state.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/coronavirus/nine-members-of-unm-football-program-test-positive-for-covid-19/article_0e09dd9a-0f47-11eb-9e98-fbbc7b18389b.html

Sorry, but college football is not an essential business and these guys are obviously missing the message. This whole thing is overprinted by good buddy politics rather than so called science. Spare me the lecture.

Tom Ribe

Our governor is doing an excellent job. Can Mike Johnson imagine what having her responsibility would be like? No he just rants his pro Trump nonsense from his desk. Like Trump he is a know-nothing.

Amy Earle

We have the biggest threat to public health sitting in the Oval Office. His devotees have been indoctrinated to doubt science and dismiss the pandemic as an over played hoax. The country, including NM, is full of people with this belief and they are proudly gathering maskless throwing the rest of us the middle finger. We are all paying the price. The governor could restrict more businesses in an effort to stop this out of control spread but if she does the republicans will be the first to scream about their rights being trampled on. We’ll see it right here in the comments in this paper. I don’t know what it takes for people to wake up and start taking this seriously. Do we need 1,000 cases a day, sick people waiting in hospital hallways for a bed, and lots of preventable deaths? I hope not. Wear a mask. Stop gathering. Listen to real doctors not the quacks Trump puts out there. It is our only hope of having a normal life again.

Donato Velasco

why not close the whole state down you did last time with less cases or is this another shell game your playing and abusing the office at an election year.. and when are you going to raise taxes to pay for your incompetence but then your a democrat politician and your exempt..

Kim Griego-Kiel

Yes Manny, it’s a tragedy when your family or friends die and have permanent or long term issues from Covid. Too bad the dummy in the White House was elected. We wouldn’t have seen things this horrible if someone who actually cared was in charge.

Manny NoMask

Lol. The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Why we keep electing dum dums.

Craig O'Hare

"NoMask Manny" calling other people "dum dums." Now that's amusing.

Shawn Chafins

👍👍😂

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