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No school closures for now, governor says

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said school closures could be on the table in the future after issuing a public health emergency over New Mexico’s first confirmed coronavirus cases.

Lujan Grisham is not calling for classes to be canceled at this time. But she is encouraging schools to minimize contact between people.

“We are not closing schools today, but this process, this declaration is a signal that if we need to close schools, we will and we will have a plan to do that,” Lujan Grisham said.

The public health emergency order gives Lujan Grisham control over political subdivisions, including public schools, according to her spokesman.

The declaration was called after New Mexico residents tested positive for COVID-19 – the first confirmed cases in the state. The four residents, who are from Socorro, Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, are in their 60s or older and have recent travel history.

Albuquerque Academy, a private school in the Northeast Heights, canceled in-person classes starting Thursday after a school community member was in contact with one of the residents who tested positive for the virus, according to a notice sent to the school community.

It’s unclear if that Academy community member is a student or faculty.

“We’ve just become aware that an Academy community member was in close contact with one of the people in New Mexico infected with COVID-19. There is no evidence that this community member has contracted the virus. Still, this information is enough to make the decision to close campus to students and cease all activities, effective immediately,” an email from the head of school stated.

The school will be deep cleaned after it closes. In-person classes are canceled until at least March 20.

Statewide, the governor said schools are asked to inform their communities about precautions.

“You should minimize travel by students and faculty,” Lujan Grisham said.

Albuquerque Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools, Las Cruces Public Schools and the University of New Mexico have all restricted out-of-state travel.

Officials at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology said they don’t believe the university has a connection to the Socorro couple who tested positive.

After it was announced that two of the state’s first coronavirus cases were in Socorro, a county of about 16,000 people where the college is located, Tech President Stephen Wells sent an email to students Wednesday saying there have been no confirmed cases on campus.

Wells announced some restrictions on official university travel, but no other immediate changes.

At a news conference Wednesday, the governor suggested schools limit events and large meetings, with the goal of minimizing exposure to others.

“You should think about proactively communicating to students about their own community events – say, for example, University of New Mexico student-senate-related – they should all be postponed. Don’t go to those meetings,” she said.

APS officials said they are discussing the next steps after Wednesday’s announcement, but as of early Wednesday evening, Board of Education and other school meetings will continue. In Santa Fe, the school district said there’s a ban on field trips and virtual meetings are being encouraged, including with the superintendent’s cabinet.

UNM, which has canceled all official university travel, is evaluating all events that are expected to draw at least 30 people on a case-by-case basis, according to university officials.

The university created a portal on a coronavirus webpage where organizers can submit events details, which will then be evaluated by School of Medicine experts.

While the governor did not call for school closures, St. John’s College, a private liberal arts college in Santa Fe, has decided to move to online instruction for two weeks after its spring break.

President Mark Roosevelt said the decision was made before the public health emergency announcement.

Roosevelt said 90% of its students are from outside the state and were due to begin a two-week spring break on Friday. About 20% of the school’s students are international.

After spring break, St. John’s will decide whether to extend online learning.

A spokesman from the Governor’s Office said closing schools in the state would be a joint decision between the state Public Education Department, the Department of Health and the governor.

The PED would determine how to make up instructional days.

Journal North staff writer Monica Roman Gagnier contributed to this report


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