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Gov. possibly exposed to COVID-19

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, pictured here in August, is self-quarantining after a person who works in the Governor’s Mansion tested positive for coronavirus. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday that she is self-quarantining after possible exposure last week to a custodial worker at the Governor’s Mansion who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The governor tested negative for the disease Friday and does not have any symptoms but will remain in quarantine for at least two weeks out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with state Department of Health guidelines, according to the Governor’s Office.

“We have all seen how quickly COVID-19 can spread, not least in the high-profile example this week provided by the White House,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement, referring to President Donald Trump’s recent hospitalization for coronavirus-related symptoms.

“Although we have had good fortune so far in this case, I am not willing to risk the health or safety of my staff or any New Mexican, and therefore I will continue to quarantine until such time as it can be determined with 100% certainty that I am not carrying the virus,” the governor said.

According to the Governor’s Office, the custodial employee who later tested positive for COVID-19 works in the personal side of the governor’s residence but had not come into direct contact with the governor.

When the worker, who has not been identified, reported feeling unwell Thursday, she was immediately sent to get a COVID-19 test.

That test came back positive Friday morning, Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

Contact tracing

Subsequent contact tracing determined that 37 people – including the governor, some staffers, her security detail and maintenance employees – were either at the Governor’s Mansion last week or possibly in the presence of the infected worker, according to the Governor’s Office.

All 37 of those individuals have so far received negative test results, according to the Monday announcement. Lujan Grisham’s fiancé, Manny Cordova, also tested negative and has shown no symptoms, according to the Governor’s Office.

Stelnicki, who confirmed he was also among the 37 people, said the contact tracing was being conducted to ensure the virus was not widely spread.

“We’re just casting as wide a net as possible,” he told the Journal.

In addition, Stelnicki said the governor had left her personal residence – north of downtown Santa Fe – early in the day Thursday to participate in a news conference at the state Capitol.

The news conference, like other briefings held by the Lujan Grisham administration in recent months, was broadcast online, though some staffers, technical workers and at least two members of her Cabinet – Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and Human Services Secretary David Scrase – were present.

Virus surge in NM

The governor’s temporary self-quarantine comes amid a recent uptick in New Mexico COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, although new cases have dropped in the past two days.

The state reported 158 new cases on Monday and two more deaths linked to the disease, bringing New Mexico’s death toll to 894. Those who died were a woman in her 70s from Chaves County and a man in his 70s from Lea County. Both were hospitalized and had underlying health conditions, according to state officials.

The state reported well over 200 cases in four of the last six days, with a high of 341 on Friday.

New Mexico now has a total of 30,632 cases, with 17,330 designated as having recovered.

There are 97 people hospitalized with the disease across the state.

Since the state recorded its first coronavirus cases in mid-March, Lujan Grisham has responded aggressively to the pandemic, with her administration imposing a face mask mandate for public settings, business restrictions, a ban on large public gatherings and one of the nation’s strictest travel quarantine orders.

That approach has been criticized by some business owners and Republican Party leaders who say it has caused lasting damage to the state’s economy.

But Lujan Grisham has defended her handling of the pandemic, describing public safety as her top priority.

She said Monday that New Mexicans should act like they and everyone around them have coronavirus, saying, “It’s the best practice for ensuring the risk of infection to ourselves and those around us is minimized to the greatest extent possible.”

The first-term Democratic governor, who plans to get tested again Wednesday, will continue to work remotely and plans to hold a news briefing from the Governor’s Mansion later this week, she said Monday.

“Working remotely is not new to me or my staff, and we will not lose a beat over these next two weeks,” Lujan Grisham said. “This should serve to demonstrate to New Mexicans that we are all susceptible to a possible exposure.”

Journal Staff Writer Edmundo Carrillo contributed to this report.

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