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55 new virus cases in NM; total 191

Medical Personal screen patients at a Presbyterian drive-up COVID-19 testing center last week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Mexico exploded to 191 on Friday as 55 more people tested positive, state officials said.

It’s the biggest single-day surge announced – more than twice the previous high.

The number of virus patients hospitalized also jumped to 17, up from 13 the day before. A half-dozen of them are in intensive care or on ventilators to help them breathe, state officials said.

The increases came as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered air travelers to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival as the state tries to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Her executive order also warns travelers that they face the possibility of “involuntary isolation” if they don’t comply. She authorized the state Department of Public Health to screen, isolate and quarantine people covered by the order.

The climb to 191 cases of the virus is a 40% jump in one day, and it coincides with increased testing throughout the state.

In a public briefing broadcast on her Facebook page, Lujan Grisham said it’s “not the best sign” to see New Mexico’s number of confirmed cases double in about three days.

“It means there’s more social distancing that must be done,” she said Friday.

The governor suggested the state may hit a peak in new cases in mid-April. She urged every New Mexican to act as if they’re infected and take appropriate steps to stay home and avoid spreading the disease.

“We want it to end as quickly as possible,” Lujan Grisham said.

Twenty-seven of the new cases are in Bernalillo County. More than half of the state’s 33 counties have at least one confirmed infection.

The Department of Health also repeated its warning Friday that “given the infectious nature of the virus it is likely other residents are infected but yet to be tested or confirmed positive.”

The Lujan Grisham administration has instructed New Mexicans to stay home and ordered the closure of schools and nonessential businesses. The Trump administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also urged people to take steps to slow the spread of the virus.

Quarantine order

Most of New Mexico’s cases are connected to international or interstate travel, state officials said, prompting the quarantine order for air travelers.

“Because some individuals infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms,” Lujan Grisham said in the order, “travelers may be unaware they are carrying the virus. For this reason, persons arriving in New Mexico’s airports must self-isolate for a period of time sufficient to ensure that the public health and safety is not jeopardized.”

The Department of Health, Lujan Grisham said, was authorized to make temporary holds and seek court orders for isolation, if necessary. She cited the Public Health Emergency Response Act as authority for the order.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the state should take care to enforce the order fairly and with proper notice to the public.

“As long as the order is enforced equitably and travelers are given reasonable notice about this requirement,” he said Friday, “we have no objections. We would urge authorities to use criminal penalties only as a last resort.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the state expects New Mexicans to comply with the quarantine order and isolate themselves at home or wherever their destination is, without need for a court order.

Hospital capacity

Over the past two weeks, state officials have repeatedly urged New Mexicans to stay home to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus. They say even a small change in the rate the disease spreads could have an enormous impact on the total number of people infected and avoid a sudden influx of sick patients who overwhelm the health care system.

New Mexico has fewer hospital beds per capita than the national average, with 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. The national average is about 2.4 beds, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Lujan Grisham has asked the Department of Defense to establish a temporary Army hospital in Albuquerque.

“These are the courses of action that I think will save lives,” she said.

Just one person in New Mexico has died amid the outbreak – an Eddy County man in his 70s with chronic underlying health conditions.

For most people, the disease causes mild to moderate symptoms, and they recover within two to three weeks. Symptoms include a fever and respiratory problems.

Older adults and people with chronic health problems are most at risk.

State officials say they are working on numbers showing how many people have recovered from the virus.

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