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Governor: virus numbers trend is ‘good news’

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks remotely to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services. (Youtube)

SANTA FE – With New Mexico’s coronavirus growth rate at its lowest level since April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the state’s trend is “incredibly good news” that could lead to additional state restrictions being gradually relaxed.

But the governor said her administration will proceed cautiously, raising the possibility of a COVID-19 resurgence during the coming winter months.

“We have to be vigilant, prudent and keep our guard up,” Lujan Grisham said during a remote news conference at the Roundhouse that was broadcast online.

After peaking in July, the state’s number of new COVID-19 cases has steadily decreased, prompting the Lujan Grisham administration to recently relax some business and travel restrictions.

The governor said allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining at limited capacity – effective Aug. 28 – has been successful so far, citing a week-over-week decline in state “rapid responses” that are launched when a restaurant employee tests positive for the virus.

“I’m seeing data indicating it’s going very well,” Lujan Grisham said.

She also said existing restrictions dealing with youth sports and camping could be eased in the coming weeks, though no official decisions have been made yet.

The governor’s news conference came after she had remotely testified before Congress earlier Thursday about New Mexico’s budget situation.

Specifically, the first-term Democrat told members of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services that New Mexico and other states need more financial help from the federal government to maintain essential services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Budget cuts alone, she said, won’t be enough to help New Mexico withstand the economic damage triggered by the pandemic and a collapse in revenue from oil and gas production.

“Cost-cutting measures will not be enough to weather the storm,” Lujan Grisham said. “An umbrella is not enough protection in a hurricane.”

Roughly six months after the pandemic hit New Mexico, the state’s death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak currently sits at 816 people.

One of the three adults whose death was reported Thursday was under 30, Lujan Grisham said, a sign of the risks to young people, not just older New Mexicans. All three of the latest fatalities were people with underlying health conditions.

“This is a deadly virus,” Lujan Grisham said, “and it doesn’t care about your age.”

But she said New Mexico is otherwise showing strong progress in combating the disease. The seven-day rolling average of daily cases is at its lowest point in months – to just 89 cases a day over the last week.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase thanked New Mexicans for their work slowing the spread of the disease. The rate of spread, he said, is at its lowest point – just 0.76, well below the state’s target of 1.05 or less.

However, Scrase said the state may not know until October whether the recent reopening phases have resulted in an unacceptable spike in cases.

In all, state health officials reported 161 new cases Thursday, led by 31 infections in Chaves County in southeastern New Mexico. In addition, De Baca County, which had been the state’s only county without a single COVID-19 case, reported its first positive test result.

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