SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday that New Mexicans are pushing coronavirus infection rates back down — enough to allow in-person visits, under strict limits, for people in nursing homes.
But the downward trend, she said, needs to continue before the state relaxes its public health orders more broadly.
“We’re doing much better — too early to say we’re out of the woods,” Lujan Grisham said in a public briefing broadcast from the Capitol. “Let’s make sure we can do this for the rest of August.”
The governor reported that two more residents had died in the coronavirus outbreak and that testing had detected 212 more cases of the disease, continuing a strong downward trend in new infections since last week.
The statewide death toll now stands at 669.
The state’s seven-day rolling average for new cases is now 198 cases a day — a decline of 40% since last week, when the average hit 330 on July 29, according to a Journal analysis.
“We’re doing really well,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’re now trending in the right direction.”
The state now meets most — but not all — of the administration’s standards for reopening more of the economy, according to data released by the state this week.
The trouble spots center on isolation and contact tracing — or how quickly people who test positive for the disease are able to quarantine themselves and how long it takes to get in touch with someone who had contact with them.
It now takes 32 hours to ensure someone is isolated after a positive test, eight hours longer than the state’s target. And quarantining that person’s contacts now takes about 49 hours, or 13 hours longer than the goal.
“We are in a tug of war with the virus,” Human Services Secretary David Scrase said. “We all need to pull together against the virus. … We’re within a stone’s throw of getting our kids back to school.”
Scrase said the state is making progress toward reaching the isolation and contact-tracing targets.
The state is also showing improvement in controlling the transmission of COVID-19, according to the state’s statistical modeling. The spread rate of the disease has fallen to 0.72, meaning that for every 10 people who are infected, they will spread the disease on average to only 7.2 others. The state’s target is a rate below 1.05.
The state is also meeting its reopening criteria on the number of tests conducted, the percentage of tests that come back positive, hospital capacity and medical supplies.
State officials also said the Lujan Grisham administration plans to issue new guidelines allowing people to visit their loved ones in person at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, but only under limited circumstances and in counties where the disease is less prevalent.
To allow visits, the facility must have no active COVID-19 cases, and visitors must be healthy. Social distancing and personal protective equipment — such as a mask — will also required.
Lujan Grisham said the visits should be outdoors.
“We have to get this visitation right,” she said, “so we safeguard the residents. This is not going to be easy.”
A public health order in effect through Aug. 28 prohibits gatherings of more than five people; bans indoor dining at restaurants; and limits the operation of retail stores, salons and many other businesses to 25% of capacity.
The order also mandates the wearing of masks in public settings, with exceptions for eating or drinking.