Oct 20, 2020
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham Coronavirus Briefing Transcript October 20
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a virtual press conference on October 20 to provide coronavirus updates amid a spike in cases. Read the transcript of the briefing with updates here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (00:00)
So you’ll get an email, we all will, that will have those case counts, including hospitalizations. And unfortunately, there’s always the possibility, typically every day, that we announce also additional deaths related to COVID. And as always, that’s incredibly painful.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (00:19)
I’m going to immediately go to Dr. Scrase this afternoon, who will give us some updates about what we’re all seeing, and then we will kick it off to the other panelists, and then we’ll be ready for questions. Dr. Scrase.
Dr. Scrase: (00:34)
Thank you very much, Governor. Hopefully, you can all see the screen. I’m going to just go through a very brief COVID update. Today, we’re watching hospital capacity very closely. As you know, overall we’re at a significantly increased occupancy rate in our state for both general beds and ICU. And one of the problems is we’re most full in Albuquerque, which is our referral center for the state. So as we transfer patients in from rural hospitals to the center of the state, we’re quite full for the most part here in Albuquerque. To illustrate that, we actually transferred a patient last night from Deming up to Santa Fe in order to ensure that that patient could get the intensive care that they needed.
Dr. Scrase: (01:23)
Last week, we averaged 525 new cases a day. Our rate of spread is one of the highest, if not the highest, in the United States at the present time. And then further, our test positivity rate, which is the percent of tests that we do each day that are positive, is up to 6.5%. It’s almost doubled since October 1st. In the past three days, it’s been 6%, so holding steady.
Dr. Scrase: (01:52)
And the positivity rate also gives us a clue into our rate of spread. We have a high test positivity rate. It means that we’re getting more tests that are positive, obviously, but it also indicates that, when the test positivity rate goes up, that there’s a lot more going on than just doing more testing. And in fact, many of us believe that when that test positivity rate gets above five, that actually more testing is needed to identify all the cases.
Dr. Scrase: (02:24)
These numbers put together indicate that the virus is spreading rapidly throughout our communities here in New Mexico, and that significant caution and concern is warranted, and that all of us need to really attend to what’s happening in the state.
Dr. Scrase: (02:41)
This curve is chilling to those of us who have been working in the pandemic at the beginning. We all remember, and probably most people watching remember, when this seemed like a huge peak back in the end of April, early May. And then an even bigger peak in July. And now we’re really headed toward a more than doubling of the average number of cases than any elevation we’ve had before. We’re already three times over what we had at the end of April.
Dr. Scrase: (03:13)
You can see also, without going into great detail, that each of the five regions in the state is contributing to this upward trend in daily cases when averaged over the past seven days. And we’re seeing 23, 25, 26 counties reporting new cases every single day, which is another indication that spread is actually widespread throughout the state.
Dr. Scrase: (03:40)
This is the curve that bothers me the most, and it’s bothered me the most over the past week. What this shows is the average number of cases by age group. And just the bottom line of this graph is you got five different age groups, which are listed here on the right, every single one of them as of the end of last week had broken a new record for a weekly number of cases.
Dr. Scrase: (04:04)
This top blue line here is people 18 to 34, and we were used to those folks having a lot more cases, we’ve seen that all through the summer. But now we’re finding that the 35 to 64 year old age group, a very rapid uptick. And you can see, if you take any one of these graphs and go back this way, you’ll see that each one of these age groups has set a new record.
Dr. Scrase: (04:28)
And we know that people particularly between 50 and 60 are more likely to be hospitalized than our older age group, 65 and older here, which kind of combines with one of the younger groups. But that, again, a new record. And in the past, particularly the first peak that we experienced, the older people were the ones and still are the ones who are more likely to be hospitalized, more likely to have severe illness, and more likely to die from a COVID infection.
Dr. Scrase: (04:57)
And so this particular curve combined with this one are the ones that are making us very concerned about our hospital capacity. And again, it isn’t so much where we are now but where we’re going to be two to three to four weeks from now, as we’ve always seen a two-week delay between that uptick in cases and the number of people going into the hospital.
Dr. Scrase: (05:21)
And then lastly for my segment today, our gating criteria. We now are missing on five of the eight criteria. Of course, we already talked about the spread rate being the highest in the country. We’ve talked about the number of daily cases being, and you can see there, more than triple what our target is. We still are doing a lot of testing. That system is working well, and we’re working every day to find ways to have even more capacity for our testing, but our test positivity rate is red. As predicted last week and the week before, our contact tracing has finally experienced difficulty catching up with all these cases. You can’t have 800 and 900 cases in a couple of consecutive days and expect to contact every single person. And so we are over both of these targets.
Dr. Scrase: (06:12)
And then finally, our hospital days. Still, we have room. We’re concerned about the next two weeks. And I just want to put a little message in here for everybody, remember to continue getting your needed care. This doesn’t mean don’t go to the hospital if you have a scheduled test or procedure. It just means that for the rest of the time, when you’re not seeking medical care, do your best to stay at home. Wash your hands. If you do go out, wear your mask and strictly avoid large gatherings. So for the time being, we have room in the hospitals, but we’re very, very concerned about the next two weeks. Please get the care that you need.
Dr. Scrase: (06:55)
Well, obviously, there is no possibility of expanding anything at this point in time given the fact that five of our eight targets are being missed. And with that, I want to turn it over to Secretary James Kenney, who’s going to talk with you a little bit more about the rapid responses that are happening in our state and the trends there. All of these curves tend to be a very sharp uphill curve, and that’s why there’s so much concern on the part of all state officials. It’s not only it’s an increase, but how rapidly these increases are occurring.
Dr. Scrase: (07:31)
Secretary Kenney, take it away.
James Kenney: (07:35)
Thank you. And good afternoon, Governor. Good afternoon, Lieutenant Governor, Dr. Scrase, and everyone watching.
James Kenney: (07:42)
I’m going to talk a little bit about rapid response here, our numbers. I should just explain first that the New Mexico Environment Department, while you may have come to know us again for air, water, waste protections, many of you now know us as the OSHA program for the state of New Mexico, where we work with employers and make sure that they are keeping their employees safe. And in that vein, we also are working extensively on the rapid responses, making sure that COVID is not in the workplace, as that is an occupational hazard.
James Kenney: (08:16)
As we do that, we track rapid responses. That’s where we go out to businesses and ensure that COVID is not spreading in the workplace. These rapid responses, as you can see, over the past six weeks have significantly increased. We are now 832 rapid responses for the period of October 12th through 18th. And we’ve managed as a state over 4,800 rapid responses since we started tracking in May. The sheer volume is confirming what Dr. Scrase talked about, is that the numbers are indicating that COVID is definitely traveling through communities as well as workplaces. [Nora 00:00:08:57], we can go to the next slide. What are we doing about it? What’s changing? And here’s how I would explain what we’re doing. And this slide, while a little bit busy, I think depicts exactly what is happening as we move forward.
James Kenney: (09:16)
Starting today, the New Mexico Environment Department is publishing a Rapid Response COVID-19 Watchlist. Once a business goes through a rapid response, as they get to their second rapid response, they will appear on this watchlist. The watchlist is designed to make information more transparent, more easy to access, to get it into communities.
James Kenney: (09:43)
And to that end, we are going to be publishing this list, sending it out to the media, tweeting about it, placing it on social media, trying to let communities know which businesses have high numbers of rapid responses. So while the goal here is to stay home, if you need to go out to one of these businesses, you will have the tools in an easy-to-find way as to where COVID is in the workplace in your community. So that’s the first thing we’re doing.
James Kenney: (10:14)
The second thing we’re doing is after you pass your second rapid response in the period of 14 days, you may get to a third or a fourth, when you hit that number of four rapid responses within 14 days, certain businesses will now have to cease operations and shut down for a period of two weeks. These are largely the businesses like restaurants and salons and gyms and places like that, lodging, et cetera. Non-essential businesses, if you will, will have to shut down for that period of time to stop the spread of COVID within the workforce.
James Kenney: (10:53)
And again, the goal here is exactly that, to stop the spread of COVID and to recognize that while many businesses are doing their due diligence in implementing CSPs, COVID-safe practices, on a daily basis, there is that occasion where a business will experience a rapid response. If you’re not experiencing those in a frequent way in that period of 14 days, you then have the ability to stay open and continue to serve the public. For those that are having more struggle with this concept and get to that four in 14 days, that’s where the period of shutdown begins.
James Kenney: (11:28)
Governor, I will pass this back over to you. And thank you.
Governor, you’re still muted. I’m so sorry.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (11:48)
We’re all having technical difficulties. Thank you, Nora, for reminding me. My apologies, everyone.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (11:55)
I’m going to go over then the operationalizing of our new measures and our effort to crack down on this virus. And I really want to make sure that that’s the language that we’re using, that we’re not shutting down because we’re trying to learn to live with the virus during what’s coming, which is even tougher winter months. We’re having a tough fall. By all likelihood and all of the advice and information we’re getting from national experts and our own modeling team, that the winter could pose even more challenges to New Mexico. And I want to frame it with three quick more things, and let’s talk about what changes.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (12:37)
One, New Mexico has a third less hospital and healthcare capacity per capita than any other state in the country. That means we have to get it right, and we have to do everything we can to make sure people can get routine care, that mamas can deliver their babies safely in the hospital. When they’re going to the hospital to deliver those babies, that if, God forbid, we have a trauma or an accident or someone injured in a fire, that we have the healthcare system that’s ready and available to do that. And it gets really stretched when you have any kind of an issue, whether that’s a flu epidemic or a significant flu season. But with a pandemic and the deadly virus, that becomes moment to moment if we can’t stabilize transmission. Two, the number of cases, as you saw, is exponential. There were some days over the last several where our positivity rate was eight and a little above. What does that mean? That means that far too many people that we’re testing are showing that they have the virus. That along with the rate of infection are two ways that we track how prevalent this virus is. It’s prevalent in the state.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (13:59)
And third, we want to make sure that as we’re protecting our healthcare resources and we’re protecting New Mexicans, right, that we’re saving lives in that design while also recognizing that we’re trying to, right, have some sense of normalcy in the state of New Mexico. All right?
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (14:17)
So effective Friday the 23rd, that’s this Friday, what Secretary Kenney was saying, if a business records four rapid responses in a 14-day period, that business must close for two full weeks so that we can reset, right, basically where we are where we’ve got a particular outbreak. This applies to food and drink establishments, retail establishments, places of lodging, and any close-contact businesses as defined in the public health order. Secretary Kenney said that already. Gyms and salons are other examples. It’s basically everyone. All right?
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (14:57)
This is how we can crack down on where the virus is spreading. Businesses are not spreading the virus. People coming to businesses are spreading the virus and giving it to employees at that business. So this is a way for us to minimize that spread and deal with outbreaks. We want to do that so that we don’t have wholesale economic disruption. We believe this one effort is significant enough that we will be focusing on locations and high-risk communities so that we can get folks back to the whole state managing the virus and limiting the spread. All right, next slide. All right.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (15:44)
Now we’re going to also require additional, very strict safety measures for indoor dining. And I know that this is an area that we all struggle with because we want our restaurants to succeed. It is already incredibly hard. Winter is coming, and 25% occupancy or limited occupancy indoors is not a sustainable model economically.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (16:12)
We also want people to be safe. You can’t wear a mask while you eat, and you’re indoors, which means the virus stays in that indoor setting. So we really have to find better ways to do this more effectively. We think this strategy, which got great input, and I want to say thank you, from the Restaurant Association, by other businesses and restaurants, and by the Economic Recovery Council, that if food and drink establishments work to do New Mexico Safe certification, which is a free certification, but goes through what’s required, the training, how to protect your employees, how to keep it as sanitized as possible, and how to deal with the flow of traffic so that you’re minimizing spread, we’re going to ask everyone to do that.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (17:05)
If you don’t do that, you can’t keep doing any indoor dining. Let me say that again. For food and drink establishments, restaurants, breweries, if you don’t complete the New Mexico Safe certification training program, which is free and it’s online and it’s quick, you cannot continue to offer indoor dining at 25%.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (17:34)
You must also consent to spot testing of employees. What that means is state health officials will target businesses for testing in our high-risk counties, where the health data shows that the spread is the worst. We also want food and drink establishments to keep a log book of customers who dine on-site for three weeks to support contact tracing. Food and drink establishments will have until the end of the month almost, October 30th, to become certified. Those that are not certified after that date would not be able to offer indoor dining.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (18:13)
Food and drink establishments remain a top source, as I talked about, of possible exposure according to state contact tracers. And we have to find a way to safely operate indoor dining and lower the spread and rate of infection because, again, winter is coming. And if we don’t figure it out, there will never be an opportunity to increase indoor dining, and we know that we need to find a way to do that.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (18:44)
We think these structures and these strict COVID-safe practices are the prudent way forward. And I want to say one more thing about this slide. The state provides the support at no cost to the business. The state shows up to provide the testing where appropriate in high-risk areas at no cost to the business. We want to make sure that you are safely operating, that you have access to the resources of the state so that you can stay open. That is the goal here, and showing that these standards work well enough that we can make, I hope, more positive arrangements moving forward. Okay, next slide. These are additional measures that we think will slow the spread while keeping the economy viable. So also effective Friday, October 23rd, all retail spaces must close by 10:00 PM every night. Remember, we’re trying to limit where people are going.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (19:46)
Now, I want to make clear that this is excluded. Retail is not pharmacy. Right? So anybody who needs those services, no matter what time it is, those are still available. So this is basic retail shopping. Healthcare and necessary supplies would be exempt from the standard. And it’s really intended to minimize what’s happening and where people are going. So if you were at a food establishment, you chose that instead of retail shopping at a potential, largely, 24-hour big box store.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (20:23)
Now, I said it ahead of the slide, this aligns with our 10:00 PM closing time for food and drink. So we’re trying to minimize where people are going. We’re trying to make sure that these are applied fairly. And we think this also is an effective measure.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (20:38)
We’re also asking New Mexicans, please try and shop alone. Do not bring your family. Consider ordering online. Do curbside pickup and delivery. We’re working with retailers and grocery stores and big box stores to help make this easier. And they even think about having hours that are specific to single heads of households.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (21:03)
… the hours that are specific to single heads of households so single parents who don’t have any other options here and for seniors, again, to really minimize risk, to maximize controlling the rate of spread of the virus. Effective Friday, October 23rd, state-operated museums and historical sites are going to close. That’s something that we can do that, again, keeps us in that triangle and we are optimistic. I really want people to hear that. We are in a very difficult place currently in the state of New Mexico. The virus is winning. We have the opportunity. It’s the fourth quarter. The virus doesn’t have to win. We can win. We can manage it. We can come back down to a 2% positivity rate. I’m optimistic that these efforts, working in partnership with our businesses, that we can make these differences as long as New Mexicans support these by wearing your masks, keeping socially distanced, and staying home. So I want to talk about our triangle for success, which I believe is my next slide.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (22:19)
We really believe because duration and mobility and indoors, outdoors, whether you wear a mask and all those things that we used to talk about in that Johns Hopkins model, really if we figure out a way … So notice that these are masks, safely wearing your masks, that if we can minimize without creating harm to ourselves or our families by making sure that we’re getting necessary medical care, that where we’re required to do in-person work of course we do that, that where you need self-care to run an errand or you need childcare assistance, that we of course need to go to those places. But if we can try to make this triangle work, don’t go more than three places a day. If you have the ability to go nowhere several days in a row without those hardships or issues or precautions that I mentioned about keeping your family safe, then the virus can’t use you as the vehicle to move around.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (23:24)
We don’t have much time. If we don’t attack and snuff out the virus right now by working collectively with businesses and each other, then the virus will win. It leaves us very little opportunity to save lives and to keep our healthcare system from being overrun. That other tool causes widespread economic disruption. Our North Star is still saving lives and making sure that our healthcare system isn’t overrun, but we still believe in the modeling team and using science, mitigation measures that we can win. We can manage the virus. I really need folks to help us.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (24:13)
Last couple of things. It really is spreading exponentially. Please remember what Dr. Scrase said, New Mexico went from one of the best states in the nation to one of the states that’s in the most trouble in the nation. It’s really because we let our guard down because it is a vicious, invisible enemy. It is an exhausting process with very little tools except modifying our behavior to attack, but attack it we must. So to close us out right before questions, I want to go to one of the most effective partners who’s been helping us safely return to school in K5 and to make sure special education students and related high risk students get extra support. I’m going to re-introduce and thank for being here our Lieutenant Governor, Howie Morales. Howie, take it away.
Howie Morales: (25:11)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you to our secretaries for the information that’s been presented. I know from judging by the amount of text messages, emails, there was an assumption that today’s press conference was going to come in and to shut everything down. As you can see by the information presented is that now is not a time to panic, but to be prepared. And most importantly, to remember and to remind ourselves to practice the things that got us to the point where we knew that New Mexico was leading the charge and addressing COVID. From the very beginning, the goal has always been to keep each of us safe, to keep our loved ones safe, and to make sure that we’re protecting our communities. We did that by curbing the virus. I just want to remind every single person that we can get there once again, because as we shown that we’re a leader across this nation, we can do so once again.
Howie Morales: (25:59)
I ask each one of us just to do those little things that makes such a huge difference. When we look and see how each of us want our students back in the classrooms, how we want to be there to cheer on for our favorite teams and our favorite athletes, how we want to make sure that we’re protecting our hospitals from being overrun and out of a bed space and to protect those healthcare workers who are at the breaking point because of the amount of work that’s been in place. I think these are the reminders that we need to know for each one of us of how we as New Mexicans can get to that point. But I also would want to do is I also want to say a special thank you to all those who are working, those essential workers who are every day doing their part to keep us safe.
Howie Morales: (26:41)
To our Department of Health employees who are testing every day, getting blisters on their fingers, but doing what they need to do to make sure that we have the opportunity to make sure and understand where this virus is at and what we need to do to combat it. Then last, I’d like to just close by wishing our prayers and best wishes to all of those individuals in Northeastern Mexico who are dealing with the huge Luna fire. We’re all in this together, New Mexico. We can get through this. We’ve done it before. I just want to remind every single one of you, [inaudible 00:27:12]. Governor, I’ll go ahead and turn it back over to you for questions.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (27:17)
Terrific. Nora, we are ready.
Nora Sackett: (27:19)
Thank you, Governor, and I’ll remind our media partners on the Zoom with us to raise your hand if you have a question so that I can call on you. We’ll start with Jens Gould schooled from the Santa Fe New Mexican. Give me one second. Jens, if you want to allow yourself to be un-muted there, go right ahead. Thank you.
Jens Gould: (27:43)
Great. Thank you, Nora. Thank you, Governor and secretaries and Lieutenant Governor. I had two good questions. One was, and at the risk of beating a dead horse here, it’s a bit related to my question last week, but that is, do you have a specific time that you are looking at in terms of a certain number of days that you’re allowing before you need to close … You would decide to close businesses more definitively again, a certain time limit at this current case rate? Then the other one is on prisons. COVID’s making inroads into state prisons. Are you doing anything to keep it from exploding there like it has in the federal prisons in the state. Thank you.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (28:28)
Thanks, Jens. I really want to give you a definitive answer because COVID, we would know exactly where it is. We would know exactly how it’s spreading. I mean, beside the basic. It’s airborne. It spreads human to human contact. But it just depends. So the modeling team every day looks at the data from the hospitals, looks at the data about infection rates and positivity rates. We report it and look at it in these two week, seven day rolling averages for gaining. Two weeks of data really gives us that predictive value about where we are or where we’re headed. We’ll know in a couple of weeks. I hope maybe even earlier if we look at next week with these mitigation efforts and then compare it to this week. We’ll get a sense. So I can tell you this, that it is alarming where we are. These mitigation efforts are not intended, as the Lieutenant governor said, to scare people. Being scared doesn’t help us stop the transmission. Being prepared and looking for ways to minimize spread and minimize risk, that’s what we’ll chart a much better course.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (29:51)
We should be very alarmed at how quickly … It got out of control fast and it just meant that we let our guard down. So we’ll know more in a week. I want everyone to be clear about our goals. Everyone knows that we will make tough decisions. We have made several tough decisions. We were states that led with trying to minimize the virus moving in here at all and had very strict stay home orders and very strict what the nation referred to as lockdowns. Then we did a minor, took a step back, rolled back indoor dining and related indoor activities. But we’ve really worked hard not to have this whiplash scenario. So I don’t have an exact date. It’ll depend on what the data says. Dr. Scrase and the modeling team and the medical advisory group will tell me that that’s the only way to save lives and to save the hospitals and our healthcare workers. As we have said, we’re not there yet, but we are on our way. So I wish I could give you a definitive.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (31:05)
On the second thing, we learned a lot about how to do containment and we’ve been doing surveillance spreading. We are often ahead of the virus. That doesn’t mean that we can keep it out of our state prisons, our nursing homes, our hospitals, or our businesses. That is a reflection of what’s going on in community spread. We’re going to continue to do the mitigation efforts that we learned to really stop it in its tracks. I do want to give you a data point that some folks will say, “Well, look, what’s happening in jails and in corrections. That’s all the cases. It gets in. It gets into a nursing home. What are these communities?” That’s really the community spread exponential growth. It’s not.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (31:51)
At MDC, as an example, it’s only for the two weeks that we’re dealing with that, it’s 6% of the total cases. 94% is community spread so I don’t want folks to have a false sense of security that somehow this is just attacking folks in detention centers, jails, and prisons. It is not. We think that we’re going to do … We believe that our efforts at surveillance, immediately when we have a case, testing everyone and doing isolation are the keys to minimizing significant outbreaks. And to your point and I’ll be quiet, the federal government does not do that. They do not do surveillance. They do not do spot checks. They do not isolate immediately when they have a positive case. We do all of the above. Next question.
Nora Sackett: (32:50)
Thank you, Governor. Next, we’ll go to Matt Grubs with New Mexico PBS. Matt? There you are. You are un-muted. Go right ahead.
Matt Grubs: (33:00)
Hi. Thanks, Nora. Thanks everyone. Couple of questions. Here under the procedure that you all described with the four rapid responses, I’m wondering if you have an idea and I apologize if you said this already and I missed it, but I’m wondering if you have an idea how many businesses would have been subject to closure for two weeks in the past? If you don’t have an exact number, you can ballpark it. Then the second question is more of a strategy question. Frequently, we’ll hear from folks in the Republican party that folks who are vulnerable, people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, should stay out of the mainstream, so to speak, and work to protect themselves and people who are not in those more vulnerable categories should go about their business and they see that as a way to, I guess, bolster the economy or protect the economy while they say at the same time limiting spread of the disease. I’m just wondering why or why don’t you see that as a viable option. Thanks.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (34:12)
You got it. I’m going to go to secretary Kenny for your question about rapid responses and I can see that Dr. Scrase wants to respond to the Republican aspect of here’s another way to go about it. I’m going to do a quick response to that. First of all, vulnerable populations, one in three New Mexico adults suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes and related chronic care conditions. So the notion that if you want to make key people out of the hospitals, it’s just retirees is nonsense. It is everyone. We also lost an 18 year old in Southeastern New Mexico. This virus doesn’t care what political party you are, how old you are, and apparently it doesn’t really care if you have underlying conditions although we have data that proves that underlying conditions make you much more vulnerable.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (35:04)
Second, our retirees and seniors, they need prescription drugs and groceries too. While we’re doing a great job getting meals out to families, it’s not every family so you’re basically saying you can’t get access to any of those essential services. They got to go to the doctor and they got to go to the pharmacy. A lot of older people are still going to work. So this notion that you can oversimplify it by population, you cannot. I agree with the Republican statements, don’t know who made those, that we should really be cautious about how this gets into populations that are more at risk because they are more likely to lose their lives. I appreciate the recognition that that still is a fact. But one in three New Mexicans is at high risk of having severe complications related to COVID and death. If we’re going to make the economy work, you need more than just a third of all new Mexicans engaging in the economy. I just don’t think it’s factually viable or relevant in the context of protecting New Mexicans and the economy. Let’s go to Secretary Kenny and then Secretary Scrase, you can round us out.
James Kenney: (36:30)
Thank you, Governor. And Matt, thanks for your question. If that was in effect today, we’d have 42 closures so 42 businesses exceed that four or more rapid responses. You didn’t ask this, but there’d be 291 on the watch list and we just sent out the watch list today as to who is on that list. We’ll continue to send that out on a daily basis. The four or more closures will start at zero on Friday. When the public health order is actually in effect, we will start the clock at zero and anybody exceeding four or more rapid responses will then be triggering that shutdown. I would invite you to check out our website. We posted all of this on our website.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (37:13)
Crack down, Kenny, crack down.
James Kenney: (37:15)
Crack down. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (37:17)
There you go. Yes, you’re welcome.
James Kenney: (37:19)
It’s all on our website and you can just browse to us at New Mexico Environment Department through any search engine. Thank you.
Dr. Scrase: (37:27)
I would just add a couple of things to what the Governor said. As usual, she covered all the bases. Two more things. One is that the elderly aren’t just vulnerable in and of themselves. I think the Governor hit on this that a third of New Mexicans have risk factors. In fact, some risk factors are more common in people under 65 like obesity and other things like that. Then the second thing is that we’re a multi-generational family state here in New Mexico, top three in the country. Any kind of system to separate off and completely protect older people in our state would really disrupt a huge percentage of our families. The fact is that even if you’re an old person doing everything you possibly can to stay at home and protect yourself, you may have a child or a grandchild who’s in and out of the house. We have a colleague who’s family got COVID despite the fact that their aging parent was staying at home. She got it and she died. The mechanics of this protection would, I think, disrupt life as we know it. How much easier would it be if we just all wore masks, were more careful about going out, avoided those large gatherings, kept our hands clean. Thank you.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (38:57)
I might just also, Dr. Scrase, that is an incredible point. Thank you for highlighting it. We are also one of the leading states in terms of this percent of population of grandparents raising grandchildren so they have to drive them to school if they’re in the K through 5 hybrid model. They have to get groceries. They have to take them to the doctor. They have to do that to go to childcare. All those things that happen in families that sometimes we forget. We assume that they’re all younger families. They are not. That is a very important point that I would have failed to make. Thank you, Dr. Scrase. Next question.
Nora Sackett: (39:34)
Thank you, Governor. Next, we’ll go to Joy Wang with KOB 4. Joy, you are un-muted. Go right ahead.
Joy Wang: (39:43)
Hi, Governor. Thanks for answering the question. If you could just first talk a little bit more about state travel/flying and then the other one would be for the businesses watching who are concerned about wanting to make sure they get that rapid response training done, could you kind of just a little bit elaborate on what’s needed in all of that?
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (40:05)
Right. So I’m going to do the latter part first if you don’t mind, which is … And I really appreciate the question. We aren’t looking for ways to create a situation where businesses can’t get safe certified. This is not a strategy to do that. If we’re going to have an economy that can survive while making sure that we don’t let up on our efforts to create an environment where we are saving lives, keeping individuals from getting COVID, we don’t even talk about that anymore, the long-term impacts of having COVID when you survive, and the hospital system, we’re looking to have a coexistence that is as safe as we can make it in that environment.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (40:56)
It is an online tool and you register. It tells you what COVID safe practices are necessary for your business. Restaurants are very specific. They helped us to create those. What you need for your employees, what you need to do to sanitize, how you report if you believe you’ve got a positive case. We typically find out about the positive case through the Department of Health and the epidemiologist. They call that employee and we ask about their employer so that we can go out and help test and mitigate any transmission risks. That’s the whole point of the contact tracing and going right where we have a potential outbreak. We think that this system … And I want to say that restaurants not just by themselves, but as a particular group, were very effective, and hospitality in fact, at creating with the Department of Tourism, this safe certified business. I know how to operate as COVID safely as possible. I know what my obligations are to the public and my employees. I know how to-
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (42:03)
Are to the public and my employees, and I know how to mitigate having it come in with consumers and customers. Right? So that’s what you need to do. And we’ll make sure that folks know exactly how to get online. So I’m going to ask my folks to make sure that we get a slide up or get that out to everyone participating today. And then the first part of your question, you’re going to need to repeat it for me, I apologize.
Dr. Scrase: (42:33)
Governor, she asked about more information about travel and flying.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (42:38)
So the same quarantine issues exist. Right? If you’re coming in from out of state and you’re in one of the hotspots, which now is about every state in the nation. And we ask New Mexicans, if you’re going to a state that has a positivity rate above five, which is now including us, nearly every state in the nation, not everyone, but that you should quarantine. And it is a tough area to enforce. Thank you, Dr. Scrase by the way. We’ve had lots of conversations about that. And travel is still in that top category, right? Dining, shopping, family gatherings, travel. These are the areas that we know create the highest risk for spread. And frankly, a message to New Mexicans, look, I know there are things where we have to travel.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (43:29)
We have emergencies, you’re opening a business in another state, your work, although I hope that they will really look at what constitutes required work travel. If we’re going to make this work, people have got to decrease and eliminate all together, any travel that’s related to entertainment and basic tourism, because that is a huge problem. And it absolutely creates spread. And we’re seeing all of the controversies play out across the country about where airlines thought it was completely safe. It’s not. It’s spreading. You’re getting it in other States and communities. And so, I have kept all those quarantine requirements exactly as they are.
Nora Sackett: (44:23)
Thank you, governor. Next, we’ll go to Dan Boyd with the Albuquerque Journal. Dan, you can go ahead and accept that. There we go. Dan, go right ahead.
Dan Boyd: (44:33)
Thanks, Nora. And thank you, governor and secretaries and Lieutenant governor. I’ll try and be brief, but two quick questions as well. One, is I didn’t hear anything about changes with schools and wanted to hear if considering pumping the brakes on in-person learning or if that’s something that the administration still plans to continue ahead with. And secondly, I think this came up a little last week, but just wanted to see if you had any thoughts on given that we have restrictions already than a number of other States, how this recent spike may have happened here in New Mexico.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (45:08)
So you know that we are sort of pausing doing more in-person hybrid learning, but we’re really trying to make this work. And I have folks who identify for us that in school districts, in many States who also have community spread that is worrisome, including Texas, which their hospitals, particularly around the border where New Mexicans use their healthcare services are also near capacity or at capacity. And are saying we can’t take neighboring states for routine procedures. And we want folks to know that we’re in a high alert, high capacity problem. El Paso, Lubbock as examples. So we’re going to hold where we are, but we’re not going to expand. We believe unequivocally based on the contact tracing, the mobility, and what we’re seeing in the number of rapid responses where we get to go in and really talk to a particular business about what happened, that a lot of things are occurring.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (46:15)
People are not wearing their masks. They’re going to far too many places. They’re not socially distancing. They’re traveling. They’re having family gatherings and events. We’ve got indoor spaces that are violating the public health rule. We have some folks who either intentionally, I hope that’s not the case, or unintentionally still unaware of the public health orders who are having 50, 100 people, well beyond their capacity limits. We got a report in a community about karaoke and bingo. These are high risk activities that have created spread. And I think people just got tired, a bit careless. And I think it was feeling good enough in New Mexico that we didn’t have anything to fear like COVID was over. In spite of telling everyone, COVID will never be over. The virus will always live among us.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (47:11)
The tools, including a vaccine and treatments, should improve and should give us the opportunity to manage better and have more normalcy in our lives. But until then, you have to distance, you have to stay home, you have to wear a mask. And I just believe unequivocally based on the complaints that come in and the enforcement information we have, New Mexicans and businesses by and large around the state, just quit doing it. And then what goes on in the border areas impacts New Mexico. So when El Paso is a problem, Dona Ana County is a problem. When sports activities and schools came back to school, NMMI went back to school. We’ve got, I think up to 60 cases there. The virus spreads, which is exactly what we said would happen in the fall if we didn’t double down on our efforts to socially distance, to wear masks and limit the places we were going. And I just don’t think people were able for a multitude of reasons to adhere. Dr. Scrase.
Dr. Scrase: (48:21)
Yeah. Just one thing to add about schools. I think in all of the things we’re talking about, we really have to learn how to live in that COVID positive world. Just flipping back and forth with an on-off switch is not going to get us there. And when we did the modeling, which by the way, LANL published a pre-print last week of their modeling work related to school opening, that was based in large part on the work we had done with them together. And they’re working all over the country. Of course, that K through six group really did appear to be the safest and lowest risk. Now, we’ve had schools open in a hybrid model in some places for five weeks now. And what we’re seeing is we do see cases, but we see cases in the hybrid model in kids, in school, some teachers too.
Dr. Scrase: (49:09)
But we also see cases in kids and teachers who are just teaching remotely or learning remotely. So we’re not getting any evidence that what’s happening in schools is a big contributor or driving in any way this uptick we’ve seen in cases. And so to the extent that we can hold that and, and keep those kids there and get more schools systems involved in that after we get the cases down. That’s really in my mind, an important priority on the road to learning to live with this, because we have a fair number of additional months between now and the vaccine and after the vaccines released plenty of months after that, till everyone’s immunized. So I have not seen any data that would make me suggest we have to pull back on that in-person schooling right now.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (49:59)
One more thing to add. We’ve seen all these national super spreader events, those make their way. This is not just a New Mexico problem. New Mexico needs to address its problem. We are stricter because we have more issues than most States. Health status, social determinants of health, less hospital capacity. We are just different than everyone else. And a lot of that makes us positively incredibly special, but there are challenges that other States don’t have to deal with in a pandemic in the same way. But look, this is not about New Mexicans. I want to be careful about that. We are not suggesting that our behavior is much worse than somebody else’s behavior. It’s happening all over the country, but you also have political rhetoric out there, that would suggest that masks aren’t very effective, so why bother? You could still get it. That super spreading events don’t care about them.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (50:51)
That it’s two weeks before the election, so everyone needs to have rallies. And I disagree with that political rhetoric on both sides that we need to be able to campaign safely, that everyone’s vote matters, that we need to make sure that people have a right to safely cast their ballot. But the pandemic is still here. It is real, it is a deadly virus, and we’ve got to mitigate spread. So I want New Mexicans to realize it’s happening all over the country. We have higher risk in every, literally, category. So it’s harder to manage the virus and yet we were doing it, which is why I’m optimistic. Because we have proven twice that we can do it, and we’re still suffering I think some of the effects of increasing risk, Labor Day weekend, and then spread all over the country. All of those are factors about where New Mexico is today. Next question. Oh, did you want to say something Lieutenant governor?
Howie Morales: (51:51)
And just in addition to that, because I know that I’ve been in personal communication with superintendents across the state or school board members. And I know that our educators are out there doing the best they can to keep their students safe. And that’s apparent of what we’ve seen within the data at schools. I know that this was the week that we were going to re-introduce middle-school, and I just want to remind everyone that from the very beginning, it was always wanting to move forward to in-person instruction, because that’s what the research shows us. That we can move forward, and that’s the best possible instruction that can be given. We’re still wanting to do that. Obviously with the high impact of cases that we’ve seen, we weren’t able to do that. And I don’t want to lose sight about what the goal has always been is to get those students in the classroom, and to have that face-to-face contact with their students.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (52:38)
Thank you, Lieutenant governor. Next question.
Nora Sackett: (52:41)
Thank you, governor. Next, we’ll go to Julia Goldberg with the Santa Fe Reporter. Julia, go right ahead.
Julia Goldberg: (52:49)
Thanks, Nora. Thank you, governor and others. I had a question related to, I guess, the new restaurant rules. I feel like they fall under the category of targeted containment, sort of industry-wide. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about whether the state will also integrate geographic targeted containment, maybe not along the lines of what New York is doing by zip code, per se, but looking at sort of more localized areas of outbreaks. And I wondered if you could also speak to how having the restaurants keep log books with customers might change or enhance the contact tracing with an eye toward that targeted containment going forward. I think that’s my [crosstalk 00:53:32]
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (53:32)
Yeah. Absolute. [crosstalk 00:53:32] Thank you.
Julia Goldberg: (53:32)
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (53:34)
Nope. You’re awesome. I appreciate you. So the answer is actually, yes to everything that you asked. So restaurants because of indoor dining, at higher risk and even outdoor people don’t have masks. So they’re different then basic retail, but we are looking at right retail issues as well. And we stalled on expanding and reduced a bit in the same way with requiring COVID safe or safe certified with lodging. Now, we’re applying that to restaurants, and we are imposing a curfew and looking at ways to mitigate what’s going on in retail. So, and that’s how retail is being included in the rapid response. You have four, then we have a two-week pause or crack down.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (54:21)
So we’re trying to create an environment where we’re going after every location, where we have spread issues, identifying what the risk level is and what the right responses are. So we feel like this is the best balanced approach. Two, are we going to go where we have areas that we can see the outbreaks are worse? Yes. And that’s where we can assist, and we’re looking for businesses, including retail that might volunteer to let us be there to test either potentially consumers. So we’re working on that. It’s not in a public health order, but we’re working on that. We think we’re going to get good partnerships where we could screen folks who were symptomatic and get them tested right there with the rapid test. We can do the same thing at potentially restaurants and other retailers.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (55:13)
So we really want to increase testing, increase our presence and support to businesses operating in our high-risk counties, Lea, Eddy, Chaves, Dona Ana, and in zip codes in Bernalillo County. So absolutely, and we are looking at mitigation efforts that other States and communities are using, again, following their own modeling and medical advisory teams that make sense to replicate here. And it is how we’ve determined that safe, certified and curfews in terms of being at your ability to access certain businesses, give us a great opportunity to mitigate what’s occurring currently. Rapid response, another tool, two and four. And another tool is to increase testing, and how we’re doing that testing, and where we’re doing that testing and screening in those high risk counties.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (56:10)
And yes, having data is incredibly helpful by restaurants. We need to know where people are so that we can get them to isolate. Because when we do a rapid response at a restaurant, as an example, and we test all their employees and we do all the stuff that we’re doing, we don’t always know how to contact customers to tell them that they might have come into contact with the virus or that they might have even brought the virus. I mean, we’ve talked about getting to ground zero is really complicated, and not very easy to do for anyone, including New Mexico, but we can’t mitigate spread. I have to isolate people who are positive and I have to know who they are, and I have to get people tested.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (56:54)
And the only way I can do that is if we get help knowing who those individuals are. I want them to be safe. If you’ve come into contact with COVID and you don’t know, you’re not safe and you could be spreading it. So it will help us with contact tracing. And as Dr. Scrase pointed out, when we have a case, that’s a day, I’m sorry, where we have 900 cases, it is incredibly challenging for us to make sure that we got to every single person, every single contact, to make sure that they stopped spreading, if they’re likely positive, if they’ve been in contact, we get them tested. Right? We have to get all of that done. And the longer that it takes, the more spread that occurs. So, yes, it will greatly help us.
Nora Sackett: (57:47)
Thank you, governor. Oh, secretary Kenney, did you want to go? Go right ahead?
James Kenney: (57:50)
Yeah, governor, I was just going to jump in. And Julia, again, thank you for that question. I just wanted to say that as we think about rapid responses at restaurants, what we will often see is that we will go out and conduct a rapid response. And then maybe a couple of days later, we will see that restaurant pop back up in rapid response. Maybe it took a couple of days for somebody who is asymptomatic to become symptomatic. It passes through the kitchen staff, or maybe it passes in that way. So by targeting these areas and by getting out there and proactively showing up and saying, let’s test the employees now, then we would do the pausing of operations, the deep clean, and the reopening.
James Kenney: (58:38)
If you test all your employees, that’s one rapid response. So you’re not escalating on that sort of scale to the watch list and ultimately to the shutdown, if you’re very proactive on the front end and getting as many of your workers tested when you have that first positive. Because we have 4,000 rapid response, well, close to 5,000 rapid responses behind us that say, you might actually have more people on your staff who are positive and you do that deep cleaning, and then suddenly we’re back working on a rapid response with you. So this is a smart way for businesses to continue to stay open and avoid as the governor said, the crackdown.
Nora Sackett: (59:21)
Thank you, secretary Kenney, and thank you governor. Next, we’ll go to Chris Keller with Albuquerque Business First. Chris, go right ahead.
Chris Keller: (59:32)
Thank you, Nora. Thank you, secretaries, and thank you governor. Like you said, the measures implemented last week and this week really appear to show the benefits of long-term data collection and pinpointing behaviors. I noticed one data point on the state’s website. Right now it shows 79 restaurants have completed safe certification. And obviously some of those are franchises or represent multiple locations. But I guess I’m wondering, does that number feel low to you?
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (59:57)
It does. And this is why we think this is an effective way to get to all of those businesses. And I really appreciate you highlighting that. So it’s not that you’re right, that it’s 79 total businesses, but when you include franchises, but we can do much better than that. And it’s also incredible work that the recovery council and these industries did collectively to really get to a place where these COVID safe practices can really make a difference, because this is a long haul. We got months and months and months to go in battling COVID and managing it more effectively.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:00:40)
I also want to point out to you that we are committed to making sure that businesses, if everybody right now, we couldn’t even get on Zoom or at least live stream through Facebook successfully in its entirety. We’re committed to making sure that no one doesn’t get the opportunity to get that done, so that you don’t have website glitches. We will do everything to make sure that businesses can do it, can successfully do it. And that we’re available to be full partners to manage the virus. But your point well taken, there are not nearly enough businesses over the last several months when we created the safe certified process who have taken us up on really knowing what it is, what it can mean and how it can help you keep COVID from taking hold of your business.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:01:32)
And one last thing, we have some bad actors. Every state does, where we have businesses that just aren’t doing what they ought to be doing, and really aren’t interested in being good partners. That is a low few and far between number of businesses. Same with individuals. Most of us really want to do this right, but a ton of businesses have either had the opportunity or don’t know about it. So this is a way to make it clear. You have to do it. If you want to keep doing things the way that you are, and we’re here to help you. And I appreciate the question very much and we believe this is going to be an effective mitigation measure.
Nora Sackett: (01:02:14)
Thank you, governor. Next, I’ll go to Nancy Laflin with KOAT. Nancy, you can go ahead and unmute and go right ahead.
Nancy Laflin: (01:02:23)
Hi, governor. This is about some parents have contacted me to regarding the concern of teen suicides, seven suicides, and one attempted suicide from July to September. And first, I want to make sure that that is accurate. And secondly, is the state addressing this? If so, how? My other question is the teen who died from COVID last week, was she a student? Was she from New Mexico? And did she have another serious health issue?
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:02:52)
So I’ll tell you what I know about our 18 year old, that everything I know today is that is a resident of New Mexico. We don’t believe that she had-
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:03:03)
… New Mexico. We don’t believe that she had any underlying conditions and I can’t really answer the other questions. The epidemiologists have that information. You know that we work very diligently to protect the identity and privacy of individuals and so that is an indication of that. And given that you’ve asked about this 18-year old, I can’t even imagine how painful and terrible and tragic this must be for the entire family. Which gets right to the other thing that you asked about; New Mexico has struggled about suicide, both teen and adult.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:03:45)
And you might be aware, and many New Mexicans are probably aware, that one of the highest suicide rates for adolescents per capita, unfortunately, is in many minority communities, including sovereign nations. It’s an area that the Department of Health has worked to address with any number of strategies. And it was one of the things, a long time ago, and these have been eroded as you are aware, that when I was the Secretary of Health, we got great legislative support and created a ton of school-based health centers so that we could provide behavioral health services to students at school, to your point, we don’t have the number anymore, but we have students who aren’t in school. We also know that bullying is at school another terrible vehicle that creates any number of behavioral health risks, including teen suicide in New Mexico or youth suicide, and across the country. It is untenable. I’m going to have Dr. Scrase talk about the increased telehealth, the work that we’re doing with every school district, where they have to give us a plan to make sure that at-risk families and at-risk students are getting as much support as possible, so we have a variety of efforts that we are undertaking. I want to make clear, again, Nancy, that distance learning, we know by every measure, is insufficient to meet the educational health and social wellbeing of every student. That’s a fact, and COVID does not care about that fact, unfortunately. And we want our parents who are worried about their teens to reach out to their healthcare providers, reach out to us, reach out to the social workers at their schools.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:05:40)
We want to make sure that we do everything to protect our young people and their families. I don’t know if that number is correct. We know that there have been some recent youth suicides and it is horrific. Straight up. Any suicide. But particularly when we lose our children, they are horrific. And so the state is aware and we are all working diligently to provide as many behavioral health solutions as we can. Dr. Scrase, you want to talk about some of the tele-health and Lieutenant Governor, if you’ve got any specific examples with your work with schools, please give them to Nancy.
Dr. Scrase: (01:06:20)
Yeah, Nancy, thank you. I’ve been looking for this information and sent a couple emails up in the past couple of days about it, trying to track down specific cases and have been unable to verify so far. We are monitoring trips to the emergency room for suicide attempts, and those are actually not showing an increase, did not show an increase during the summer. We are puzzled a little bit about that because there’s lots of reports about increasing behavioral health disorders. During the pandemic 41% of adults in America complaining of significant increases in either anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, which are stop astonishing numbers.
Dr. Scrase: (01:07:08)
And but one thing that has happened, that’s been great in New Mexico, we were one of the first states to apply for and get a waiver to pay the same rate for telemedicine as we did for in-person visits, widely adopted by the behavioral health community. And actually our number of behavioral health visits has not fallen throughout the pandemic. They’ve replaced a lot of them, of in-person visits, with telemedicine visits, but we believe that’s an important part of the safety net and we’re happy with our success there.
Dr. Scrase: (01:07:46)
The other thing I just wanted to mention since folks are listening here is we do have a toll free number that’s staffed 24/7. Anyone out there who may be feeling that sense of intense loneliness, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and feels they want help or need help, please call. Please call the number. It’s easy to remember if you remember 1855-NM-CRISIS. Sometimes those letters are hard to see on the phone. So the number is also +1 855-662-7474 +1 855-662-7474. And if anybody here gets additional data about these tragic, tragic suicides, please feel free to contact me directly and we will continue to look into it. Thank you.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:08:46)
Great. And I really appreciate that Dr. Scrase and Nancy. This is a tough subject matter. And we know that stuff gets posted on social media but it’s got no factual underlying basis. And so we want to be careful that these press conferences have to be about, to the highest degree… I mean, I might make a mistake and then we correct it or any one of my team, but we want to provide facts. We want to be clear about what those facts are. Outside of that, we care about every family and every young person. And there is no question that things are incredibly difficult for all of us today and being mindful of that and doing everything we can is critical. I just want to make sure, Lieutenant Governor, do you have anything you want to add about schools really reaching out?
Lt. Governor Howie Morales: (01:09:43)
Governor and I appreciate the opportunity, and I know that in collaboration with the New Mexico Activities Association, working closely with [inaudible 01:09:51] that there’s outlets that they’ve been working with each school district across the whole state to provide that needed support, to provide the assistance that may be necessary, especially when those students who are not in the classroom setting. And I just want to just point that out as another avenue for people to utilize as a tool in dealing with this pandemic.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:10:14)
Thank you, Lieutenant Governor. Next question, Nora.
Nora Sackett: (01:10:17)
Thank you, Governor. Next we’ll go to Algernon D’Ammassa with the Las Cruces Sun News. Algernon, there you go. Go right ahead.
Algernon D’Ammassa: (01:10:27)
Thank you, Governor. I just want to return to the subject of prisons, because when you were addressing this earlier you spoke about lessons learned as far as mitigation in these settings, slowing spreads, surveillance, testing, and so forth. But the numbers are increasing, and this is a population that is confined in congregate settings without a lot of control over the conditions of their safety. Are you able to guarantee at least that for those who are in the custody of our State Corrections Department, that if and when there are concerns about isolation of people who are sick, availability of quarantining for those who are sick, availability of testing in these places where perhaps the staff gets overwhelmed at times? Are they able to communicate past their wardens with your office or other agencies without fear of retribution on top of the pressures affecting their healthcare? Thank you.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:11:41)
Well, in terms of your guarantee, look, inmates and the workers both have rights about being protected. Inmates have specific and significant, and they should, constitutional rights. They are in our protection, if you will, and our responsibility in that regard. And I know that things happen outside of our control and people will, if there’s retaliation and folks don’t think that we’re doing enough, that people should be accountable. We are at 74% of inmate population currently. We’ve worked very hard as a state to make sure that non-violent, non-serious offenders, if they don’t belong behind bars, particularly in a COVID environment, meeting the legal requirements of the state, we are doing that.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:12:39)
We are working diligently on re-integration and probation and parole, all the things that we should, so that that in a pandemic setting is useful. And it’s also the requirements of doing our job effectively for a corrections population. So I guarantee that if I find out about it and the facts warrant that we’ve got someone who retaliated directly or a contractor who’s behaving that way, there are swift and severe accountability measures, and we will take them. I would love to be able to tell you that we’re never going to see another containment or a congregate setting outbreak. I wish I could say that I’d like that to be the guarantee. I cannot. The more prevalent the virus is the more likely it is to get in. It’s one of the reasons. And when it gets in, particularly to a corrections population, it is very difficult to manage. And so we work really hard.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:13:42)
And I think far too many people around the country don’t see that that’s a problem. And I want to just point out, we’re required as a state to make sure that we meet the health and related care needs of a prison population. That’s a legal requirement and it’s the right legal requirement. Two, the people who all work there are impacted as well. And they’re in and out of the community and their families are impacted. And that means we’ve got community spread. So we are really dedicated and diligent. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk about how difficult it is to do right, both in terms of public health for everyone engaged. But I do think that our measures are proving useful and we’re only as successful as the community spread in a community, quite frankly. Dr. Scrase.
Dr. Scrase: (01:14:37)
Yeah, just a couple of things. Great question. I can fill you in on testing. A lot of the cabinet secretaries are now involved directly in testing plans and testing high priority and high risk populations. I won’t go through the whole list. But Alisha Tafoya Lucero has really been hitting the target pretty much every week since the very beginning of the summer. They’re testing 50% of the staff in prisons every week. They test inmates 5% per week on a rotating basis. Anytime someone’s brought into the prison or released, any transfers are tested as well.
Dr. Scrase: (01:15:15)
And then the prison conducts rapid responses where if there is a case because of the high concern about an outbreak, every inmate, every staff member is tested then. And there’s two active ones going on right now in the south, one in Hobbs and one in Las Cruces. So Secretary Tafoya Lucero has been very diligent in ensuring that this testing gets done. And we’re watching that really closely because in a congregate setting like that, it’s important. My understanding is they do have the ability to isolate people immediately when a test comes back positive.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:15:55)
Right. And based on what I know, we’ve got one new corrections facility, state facility, case today in the Valencia County. And the bump that Dr. Scrase talked about is a facility in Lea County. So we’re paying attention and we should. I want to make that clear. And thank you, Algernon for always making sure that we’re talking about all populations that are at risk. I appreciate you for that.
Nora Sackett: (01:16:19)
Thank you, Governor. And this’ll be our last question from Chris McKee with KRQE. Chris, go right ahead. Thank you.
Chris McKee: (01:16:28)
Thank you. I had a question related to the hospital numbers that were provided earlier. Two quickly off the bat; how many of those patients in the ICU across New Mexico are COVID patients right now? I saw it was about 71% occupancy. Second, have you directed hospitals to start thinking about dialing back on procedures that can wait, anticipating that we may have a hospital surge in the next couple of weeks. And the third question is just about the baseline capacity for hospitals. From those numbers provided, it does not look like the hospitals are over baseline capacity right now. Is that an accurate surmising of the data? And what happens when we are over capacity? Is that stuff like field hospitals get activated like in Gallup or the one that was built in Albuquerque? Thank you.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:17:20)
So Chris, I’ll do the back end of that question. Yes, you end up with field hospitals or beds in any number of strategies. And remember that when you look at the capacity, which is overall adult ICU and hospital capacity, it’s kind of a look back. The other data point that Dr. Scrase shared today was showing the rapid increase in hospital capacity by all patients. I’m going to make sure that Dr. Scrase goes through the numbers again, based on the question. And thank you for raising that because it is alarming and we do have to pay particular attention to that. And one last quick thing, I know Dr. Scrase is ready, these mitigation efforts are intended so that we don’t have to tell patients not to get needed healthcare access. We really need to stall this transmission to the highest degree possible as quickly as possible, because remember, it takes two weeks or so before you start to see the benefit. So we’re getting very nervous about where we currently are for good reason. Dr. Scrase.
Dr. Scrase: (01:18:29)
Yeah, it’s a great question, Chris. Thanks for asking it. Just a couple of things for context; one, typically hospitals are about 60 to 65% full. Although that varies throughout the state and of course when you’re not in the middle of a pandemic. Second is, as I mentioned earlier, right now, we’re seeing a particular level of high volume in Albuquerque Presbyterian and the university in particular, which is a problem because those two hospitals plus Lovelace are the main hospitals that take transfers from throughout the entire state. If you go on the Gating Criteria website, you can click on the ICU bed capacity for the hub hospitals and you can see that it’s getting very, very close to full.
Dr. Scrase: (01:19:22)
In addition, and I don’t have the breakdown of COVID patients versus non-COVID patients in ICUs. I do know that this morning hospitals confirmed that we had 238 COVID patients as inpatients statewide, and then an additional 51 that are suspected. I’m told by my colleagues at the university on their service that about half those people who come in as a suspected COVID turn out to have COVID. And so we can start… I’m actually interested in this, breaking that out. In the end, remember that there’s a lot of burden of disease in New Mexico for heart disease and stroke and diabetes, and a lot of other things. So there’s never been a point in time when COVID patients were the majority of hospitalized patients and our goal here is to try to balance capacity.
Dr. Scrase: (01:20:18)
Hospitals are in the process of self-regulating now, changing visitation policies, looking at elective surgeries and the like. It appears that they’re acting very responsibly and responding to the changes in their own situations, also jumping in to help each other out. Also to mention that the call center was reactivated and is online today, organized by the Department of Health, which also helps to level load patients throughout the state. One example of that, as I mentioned this morning, was a patient from Deming who needed intensive care being transferred to Santa Fe to get it because of the strain on capacity of ICU bed in Albuquerque. Thanks.
Nora Sackett: (01:21:11)
Thank you, Secretary Scrase. And that does it for questions. I will give it back to you, Governor to wrap us up.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:21:17)
I want to thank everyone for putting up, like all of us. Certainly no one on the governor’s staff or team created the technical difficulties, but nonetheless, people are wanting this information. It affects what we do, how we do it, where we are. And I know that that was difficult starting late, and it was difficult that we couldn’t do the kind of live streaming that we intended. I want folks to just be clear about the three takeaway messages; we’re not in a good place right now. We are trending poorly and we have the ability to do something about that. If we don’t do something about it, too many people will die, hospitals cannot keep up and we won’t be able to sustain our economic activity.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: (01:22:05)
The only way to do those three things productively is for us to triple down on our efforts. Try not to go to more than three places in a day. If you can minimize that even further, please do it. Do curbside and delivery as often as you can for goods and services. Wear your mask religiously. Social distance. And please help us by avoiding family gatherings. And that’s painful because that creates any number of other challenges for us because New Mexico and I guess you should say this about every state, our families are the most important thing and spending time with our families is the most important thing. But in a pandemic, it’s one of the most dangerous things. We really need to get back to the basics in a significant and immediate fashion. I believe in us. We are in this all together. Let’s re-crush this virus. Let’s do it together. Stay safe, New Mexico. Thank you.