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NM to intensify testing in workplaces, of vulnerable populations

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – With New Mexico set to take another step toward fully reopening its beleaguered economy, state officials said Thursday they will launch an aggressive testing campaign aimed at limiting coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces statewide.

In addition, Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said the state will step up testing of vulnerable populations as a way to monitor and quickly respond to outbreaks.

The ramped-up workplace testing, set to begin Monday, will focus on employees in restaurants, child care centers, prisons and hospitals and other health care facilities.

“If we see one case in a business, that’s an outbreak to us,” Kunkel said during a Thursday news conference at the state Capitol that was broadcast online.

“We are going to be strategically sampling them every week as our supplies and resources allow,” she later added.

When positive cases are identified, the Department of Health will move quickly to make sure workplaces are disinfected and the infected employees are isolated, Kunkel said.

There have already been some virus outbreaks at New Mexico job sites, including 57 confirmed COVID-19 cases at a meatpacking plant in Sunland Park earlier this month.

Overall, New Mexico had performed more than 183,000 coronavirus tests, as of Thursday, since the state’s first confirmed case on March 11, according to DOH data.

The aggressive testing has propelled New Mexico toward the top of all states when it comes to COVID-19 testing per capita, though the state has not been immune to problems.

Some residents have complained about delays in getting test results and Human Services Department Secretary David Scrase said a recent shortage of testing swabs caused the state’s testing capacity to dip below 5,000 tests per day – the goal established by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration as one of its criteria for reopening businesses.

The state was running about 4,600 tests per day as of this week, but Kunkel said Thursday she hopes that figure can be more than doubled to about 10,000 tests daily.

“This is to get ahead of the virus,” Kunkel said.

In addition to workplaces, she also said testing will be expanded among Native American communities, residents of long-term care facilities, people in homeless shelters and other targeted populations.

While the state has expanded testing criteria to allow those without COVID-19 symptoms to get tested, Kunkel said testing will still have to be prioritized.

“We still want to test people who are symptomatic first – they are at the front of the line,” Kunkel said.

Meanwhile, the governor said during Thursday’s news conference the goal is to identify and “box in” the virus before it spreads more widely.

“I’m not going to be satisfied … until we can test everyone and do it routinely,” Lujan Grisham said.

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