Updated: Governor, Department of Health announce first positive COVID-19 cases in New Mexico
Governor declares a state of emergency to maximize resources; issues enhanced public health advisory steps for New Mexicans to take to help prevent spread
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Department of Health on Wednesday announced that three New Mexico residents tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed cases in the state.
Per the state Department of Health, two of the cases are a Socorro County husband and wife, both in their 60s, with known recent international travel to Egypt. Both are at home in isolation. The third case is a woman in her 70s in Bernalillo County with known recent travel to the New York City area. She is also isolated at home.
The governor on Wednesday issued a public health emergency, as other states have, in order to maximize the resources available to the state in order to fight the potential spread of the virus and minimize public health risks for New Mexicans.
The governor, in consultation with leadership at the New Mexico Department of Health, on Wednesday issued enhanced public health advisory steps that New Mexicans should take to protect themselves, their families and New Mexico communities from the potential occurrence or spread of the disease in our state.
The governor and Department of Health urged New Mexicans to:
- Avoid large public gatherings, particularly if you are a high-risk individual
- High-risk individuals are older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease
- Avoid all non-essential travel to affected out-of-state areas; and exercise extreme caution with all out-of-state travel
- Remain home (“self-isolate”) if you are sick and call the Department of Health at 1-855-600-3453 if you are exhibiting any of the symptoms of COVID-19
- Those symptoms include fever, cough or trouble breathing
- And continue taking precautionary steps to protect your individual health, such as:
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Clean “high-touch” surfaces daily with regular household cleaners
- Avoid sharing personal household items
The governor and Department of Health have directed state government and are advising local governments across New Mexico to cancel events with large crowds through at least the end of April.
And in connection with this directive that large gatherings be avoided when possible, and in light of concern about a significant number of out-of-state travelers arriving in New Mexico, the governor has instructed EXPO New Mexico to postpone the 37th Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, which had been scheduled for April 23-25 and will postpone or cancel any other forthcoming large public events under her administration’s purview.
The Department of Health will update its guidance on out-of-state travel and large public gatherings as conditions warrant.
The governor also on Wednesday directed her Cabinet secretaries to suspend out-of-state work travel for state employees; she urged state employees to exercise extreme caution with all out-of-state travel. The Department of Health also advised local governments and school districts to suspend out-of-state employee work travel.
State Cabinet secretaries are currently assessing department needs and arranging potential telework strategies for certain state employees.
“These measures reflect an extreme abundance of caution,” the governor said in a statement. “As we learn more about COVID-19, we can be certain about a few things: It can spread quickly and it can be particularly dangerous for certain populations. We are confident in the preparedness measures we have taken as a state, but I don’t think we can be too cautious. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and New Mexicans should follow best practices to minimize the risk of community exposure. So today I am giving stronger proactive guidance to New Mexicans about how to minimize those risks and how to keep our state as prepared and ready and safe as we can be for the potential of community spread. As I have said: Prepare, don’t panic. We are prepared to use any and every vehicle to protect New Mexicans. We will do whatever it takes to ease this burden, to protect you and protect New Mexico.”
“We have been and are being as proactive as we can be, watching what has happened in other states,” Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said in a statement. “We are learning from what has happened there, and will use their experience to institute best practices and guidance for prevention in our state. We are ready and we will continue, together, as New Mexicans, to prudently and aggressively address this public health challenge.”
SCHOOLS: The Department of Health is not at this time advising that any schools close. The Public Education Department and the Department of Health are working closely to determine guidelines for potential school closure and what protocols would need to be completed before a school would re-open in the event of positive cases and community spread of COVID-19 in the state.
NURSING HOMES: The Department of Health is urging New Mexicans to exercise caution in visiting relatives in nursing homes. On Tuesday, state surveyors from the Department of Health’s Division of Health Improvement, responsible for broad review licensing surveys of nursing homes, began unprecedented investigations of all nursing homes infection control protocols to ensure the homes are compliant with newly released CMS guidance. This action is undertaken to address the risk posed to the elderly by COVID-19. The Department of Health has also deployed its health care survey team to conduct onsite visits of the 269 licensed assisted living facilities statewide. State survey staff will focus on providing COVID-19 related infection control guidance, written visitor protocols and to address staff, family and resident questions or concerns. Facilities will receive: An onsite visit by a state long term care survey team member; observations and provide feedback on current infection control surveillance from Health Department staff; written instructions and signage for visitors and residents on infections control protocols; direction to websites that can provide up to date information on CDC and state of New Mexico COVID-9 protocols; and ongoing support and guidance to all facility staff, residents and family members.
In addition to surveillance of vulnerable populations and other preparedness measures, such as expanding testing this week to a wider group of symptomatic patients in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the New Mexico Department of Health has tested almost 90 individuals from across the state through Tuesday, March 10.
The Department of Health has also been working with TriCore Reference Laboratories to establish additional testing at select locations across the state, which the department hopes to have operational by next week.
(Those test numbers are updated at the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage, which includes additional important information for New Mexicans.)
PREPAREDNESS: The Department of Health this week activated the Bureau of Health and Emergency Management’s Department Operations Center at level 3 in support of on-going pandemic-readiness activities related to COVID-19.
The agency continues to monitor asymptomatic travelers from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy during the time when they might develop disease if they were exposed to the virus; and is supporting screening and infection control procedures in health care settings to identify illness in travelers or contacts of known COVID-19 patients.
The Department of Health is also actively monitoring the hospital bed capacity in New Mexico and the availability of facemasks, respirators, and other personal protective equipment needed for infection control.
The Department of Health has a frequently asked questions page viewable here.