While states on both coasts are forming regional alliances to coordinate the eventual reopening of their economies, New Mexico is working on a different type of pact.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been in talks with neighboring states about possibly creating a joint effort with the Indian Health Service to address the impact of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation.

“The governor has been and continues to be in communication with the governors of Utah and Arizona to create a coordinated partnership with the IHS to address needs on the Navajo Nation,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham.

The new coronavirus has ravaged the roughly 350,000-member Navajo Nation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and its leaders have responded by implementing curfews enforced by police and largely closing off access to their land.

In New Mexico, nearly 37 percent of people who have contracted the virus are Native American — a group that makes up only 10 percent of the state’s population.

As of Tuesday, there were 838 cases and 33 deaths from COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation.

Outbreaks also have been reported in the state’s pueblos, including San Felipe and Zia.

The Governor’s Office did not give details about what specific actions might be taken by the pact with New Mexico’s neighbors, but it did say it was “waiting for Arizona’s contribution” to the plan.

Sackett added Lujan Grisham had a call scheduled with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday.

New Mexico is also aiming to implement a broad or automated contact-tracing program that would identify everyone who may have the virus, Lujan Grisham’s office said. Since the start of the outbreak, the state has been carrying out a tracing program in which the Department of Health identifies people who have been in contact with those who have tested positive.

The governor has been in communication with other states, such as Massachusetts, to learn about their tracing efforts.

“The governor is eager to explore and implement a similar wide-scale and/or automated tracing program to get an even more rapid sense of where the disease is and who does and doesn’t have it,” Sackett said. “Again, this relies on expanding testing capability and would go hand in hand with those efforts.”

Massachusetts is planning to spend $44 million on a contact-tracing program that will ask all residents who have had physical contact with people who tested positive to quarantine for 14 days, potentially setting up isolation units in hotels and dormitories.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said last week the nation will need to carry out “very aggressive” contact tracing in order to successfully scale back stay-at-home and social-distancing measures, according to National Public Radio.

Lujan Grisham’s office also said it’s looking into whether antibody testing could be implemented in New Mexico.


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.

(1) comment

Chris Mechels

CDC seems correct on this, as the Chinese/Asian efforts show. You can reopen trade only by staying of top of re-infections, as they are inevitable.

At this time, the US is incapable of using the Asian model, as we don't have the depth in surveillance of the population, and near universal internet access. We are more like a 3rd world country than a first world country.

New Mexico is even worse than most, as those of us using DSL can attest. So, its sort of "Dream Time" to think we can use the Asian model. The Governor should do something useful with her time, and stop with all the boring lectures. How about delivering groceries to folks, so we can stay home. Useful...

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