Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico health officials on Friday allowed dentists in most parts of the state to start reopening as long as they follow strict guidelines, even as the state’s death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak continued its steady increase.
In all, 181 individuals have now died in New Mexico due to complications from the coronavirus nearly two months after the state’s first confirmed case was announced.
State health officials said Friday that nine additional individuals had died from complications due to the disease. Seven of those deaths occurred in two northwest New Mexico counties – McKinley and San Juan – that have been pummeled by the coronavirus outbreak.
The other two deaths were a man in his 80s in Bernalillo County and a man in his 60s from Chaves County.
New Mexico, meanwhile, is moving ahead with a gradual reopening plan.
Health officials announced Friday that dentists throughout most of New Mexico can now resume offering nonessential dental care under guidelines issued by the state, after previously having to halt operations under state-issued orders.
The relaxed restrictions don’t apply to San Juan, McKinley and Cibola counties, where the coronavirus outbreak continues to surge.
But other dental offices can resume operations at up to 50% of their normal capacity for the next two weeks.
They must comply with a host of guidelines aimed at protecting the supply of personal protective equipment and maintaining a distance of 6 feet between patients when possible.
Each provider is to use professional judgment about which services to provide and which can be delayed, state officials said, though the guidelines call for prioritizing alleviation of pain, treatment of infections and similar conditions.
Additional easing of business restrictions could be announced next week, though Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said such decisions will be based on coronavirus transmission rate, state testing levels and other criteria.
“The actions you take today determine our ability to safely and effectively reopen,” the governor told New Mexicans during a news briefing this week.
A coalition of community foundations announced Friday that it will award $750,000 in small grants to businesses with five or fewer employees.
Each qualified business will be eligible for grants up to $5,000.
The New Mexico Coalition of Community Foundations started the All Together NM Fund in March, funded by donations.
“We’re committed to getting as much money as possible out to all the counties,” said Randy Royster, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Community Foundation. “We should not end up seeing a significant portion going to the larger population centers.”
Lujan Grisham said the grants will be a big help.
“Business relief from the federal government has been scattered, and far too much of what was first available went to large businesses,” she said in a written statement. “Many micro businesses in New Mexico and elsewhere didn’t get a fair shake.”
Four nonprofit groups will administer the grants: WESST, Rio Grande Community Development Corp., NM Community Capital and DreamSpring.
Visit alltogethernm.org to donate, apply or learn more.
Meanwhile, state health officials announced 181 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 4,673.
The Department of Health also said there were 201 people hospitalized due to the virus. In addition, the agency said it had designated 1,189 recoveries – meaning the state’s total recovery rate is now about 25.4%.
While COVID-19 infection rates have dropped in recent weeks in some New Mexico counties, there’s been a steady increase in the state’s northwest corner.
Outbreaks on the Navajo Nation and several tribal pueblos have prompted curfews, road closures and other steps aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, and state officials said this week they were hopeful the measures may be helping.
As of Friday, Native Americans made up 56.4% of the state’s total confirmed cases, despite making up only about 11% of New Mexico’s total population.
Nursing homes and other group-living facilities have also been a trouble spot, and Department of Health officials had identified 29 such facilities with at least one confirmed COVID-19 case as of Friday.
While infection rates are generally lower in southern New Mexico, health experts have expressed concern in recent days about possible transmission of the disease in Arizona and Texas – particularly El Paso – spilling into New Mexico.