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State delays easing COVID-19 restrictions

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Human Services Secretary David Scrase

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s top medical official in the fight against COVID-19 said Friday state officials are putting off for at least two weeks a plan for greater reopening of businesses and other activities.

In recent days, state officials have reevaluated whether to take the next step in the gradual relaxing of some business restrictions. But New Mexico had a “major setback” in a surge of new virus cases recently, and the state’s intensive care beds “were more than 100% full,” said Dr. David Scrase, cabinet secretary for the state Human Services Department.

On June 8, New Mexico had been among 14 states that recorded their highest ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases. And the state per capita has the lowest number of ICU beds in the country, making it vulnerable if an increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients occurs, Scrase said.

“So we decided to go another two weeks,” Scrase said during a webinar update in which he fielded questions from the news media.

The good news: in recent days, the state has seen a downward trend in new cases and the June 1 initial reopening of the economy doesn’t appear “to have overwhelmed our system,” he said.

State officials on Friday announced 112 new cases and eight more deaths.

The new cases include 15 in Bernalillo County, 22 in McKinley County and 17 in San Juan County.

There have now been 10,260 confirmed cases of the virus in New Mexico and 464 deaths attributed to the disease caused by it. There are 4,512 people who have officially recovered from the disease.

“What we are trying to do is gradually reopen on one hand and increase the number of countermeasures along the way so each step of the way people of New Mexico are doing more to prevent the spread of the virus as we have more contact with each other,” Scrase said.

“The most important countermeasure that we have in our pocket right here is getting everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing,” Scrase said. “If New Mexicans would like to see more things reopen, would like to see schools reopen, and more economic stimulus, I would encourage your non-wearing mask friends (to wear masks). Tell them this is about science.”

Scrase said there’s been some confusion about the governor’s public health order requiring masks.

“You might think that if you’re exercising … you don’t have to wear a mask.” But he said, that’s not correct in all cases.

He said he recently took a hike in the Sandias and noticed that 90% of hikers he encountered on the trail weren’t wearing face coverings.

“There’s this belief that if I’m exercising, I don’t need to. Just a reminder, even with exercise you’re only free of that requirement if you’re more than 6 feet away from people,” Scrase said.

He also said that “when talking about a pandemic, there’s a widespread belief bolstered by expert opinion that (being) outside is probably better than the inside.” But Scrase said the only relevant medical article relates to COVID-19 on a surface in the sunlight, after which the virus is inactivated in one minute.

“I’m not a believer that there’s sufficient evidence that would be reassuring that outside is safer. We still don’t really know for sure that outside infers more protection.”

Among the deaths announced Friday was a man in his 60s at the Otero County Prison Facility.

The southern New Mexico compound has been hard hit by the virus. There have been 307 state inmates and 275 federal prisoners confirmed to have the virus at the facility. In addition, 146 cases have been confirmed at the nearby processing center.

The other deaths attributed to the virus include:

• A woman in her 80s from Cibola County with underlying conditions.

• A man in his 70s from Luna County who was hospitalized.

• A woman in her 40s from McKinley County who was hospitalized with underlying conditions.

• A woman in her 60s from McKinley County.

• A man in his 60s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

• A woman in her 80s from McKinley County who had underlying conditions.

• A woman in her 60s from San Juan County.

Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.


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