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NM virus cases rise as more inmates test positive

The Torrance County Detention Facility, which closed its doors less than two years ago, may reopen to house more than 700 immigrant detainees. (Rory Mcclannahan/Albuquerque Journal)

Coronavirus cases have been reported at several prisons and detention centers in New Mexico, including the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia. Nineteen cases have been reported among detainees at the facility, according to the state Department of Health. (Rory Mcclannahan/Journal)

SANTA FE – Confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to spread in New Mexico prisons as state health officials announced new positive test results on Friday in four different detention facilities.

The Department of Health also announced six additional deaths related to the coronavirus, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 426.

All six individuals who died were men, two of whom were from San Juan County and two from McKinley County. Both counties are located in northwest New Mexico and have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The other two deaths were a man in his 60s from Doña Ana County and a man in his 70s from Cibola County who had been a resident of the Good Samaritan Society facility in Grants.

In all, New Mexico health officials reported 162 new confirmed cases, more than half of which are from San Juan and McKinley counties.

Inmates and detainees at four facilities around New Mexico accounted for 21 of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.

That included the first inmate to test positive at the Luna County Detention Center in Deming, which can hold up to 610 individuals.

There was also one detainee who tested positive at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, where a private prison company holds immigrant detainees under a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The remaining 19 new cases involving inmates were at two different facilities in Otero County, where a fast-moving outbreak has infected hundreds of inmates and led to two deaths.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday defended her administration’s handling of the state’s corrections system during the pandemic, but acknowledged the difficulty of slowing the spread of the virus in such settings.

“I think we’re going to have new best practices in corrections,” the governor said.

Lujan Grisham also expressed concern about climbing COVID-19 case counts in neighboring Texas and Arizona, and said it’s still not safe to fully reopen New Mexico’s economy.

However, she announced that an existing public health order would be revised to allow New Mexico breweries to reopen at limited capacity, as of Friday.

Lujan Grisham also cited several positive trends, including a decrease in the state’s virus transmission rate, which had dropped to 0.9 as of earlier this week. That means each individual infected with the virus transmits it to an average of 0.9 other people.

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