The Associated Press
Created: March 23, 2020 07:28 AM
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has given orders to establish a coronavirus testing site in each of the state’s 33 counties, a top public health official told a call-in forum Sunday.
State Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said she received the order to expand testing facilities on Sunday to counties with as few as 700 residents, as positive tests for COVID-19 mounted in the Albuquerque area and extended for the first time to Lea County in the oil-producing southeast corner of the state.
The number of positive test results for the coronavirus climbed to 65 on Sunday, with 51 of the confirmed cases in adjoining Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.
The state lists 20 available coronavirus screening sites in 14 cities, with most offering drive-thru assessments and testing.
“We are prioritizing the southern part of the state, and I hope that we have more sites available to you soon,” Kunkel said. “There was an order of the governor to me today to have a testing site in every county, and I’m working very, very hard on that.”
Kunkel joined a town hall-style forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small by phone to answer public questions about state and federal government responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Callers decried shortages of personal protection equipment for medical workers and expressed outrage over possible bailouts for big corporations. They also denounced some residents for flouting the state’s social-distancing orders and prodded public officials for economic survival tips.
New Mexico declared a public health emergency after its first confirmed infection and has since shut down schools, ordered a variety of businesses closings, banned gatherings of of 10 or more people and restricted restaurant operations to take-out and delivery services.
Highlighted in the risks of infection, Torres Small said she was speaking under self-quarantine from her Las Cruces home with no symptoms of infection after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The first-term congresswoman said she was sequestered in one room to avoiding contact with people including her husband, state Rep. Nathan Small.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Top-level negotiations between Congress and the White House churned into the night Sunday over a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package.
“One of the challenges of the Senate package is not only the large bailout concerns but also that it’s not hitting some of the immediate needs that we have,” Torres Small said. “The House is very interested in increasing food benefits, SNAP benefits for people who may have just lost their jobs.”
Torres Small said she wants a emergency package that goes beyond low-interest loans to offer grants — “giving money, especially small businesses that are using that money to keep people having jobs.”
New Mexico has limited virus testing to people with symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath, with consideration of recent travel to virus hot spots.
Kunkel said she too was unnerved by accounts of easily avoidable behavior that can transmit the disease, such as playground visits by children.
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