New Mexico’s Dem Governor Extends Stay-at-Home Order to May 15, Despite Low # Cases

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham holding a face mask in between speaking at a coronavirus press conference in Santa Fe, N.M.Credit...Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal, via Associated Press
Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal, via Associated Press

New Mexico’s Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended her stay-at-home executive order on Thursday to May 15, despite the relatively low number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state when compared to the other 49 states in the country.

The governor eased restrictions on a few businesses previously defined as “non-essential” and ordered to shut down, such as shooting ranges, golf courses, and pet services. In addition, some “non-essential” retail businesses were allowed to operate curb-side services. But many more businesses still classified as “non-essential” remain shut down.

The language of the executive order was quite specific that “All businesses, except those entities identified as ‘essential businesses’, are hereby directed to reduce the in-person workforce at each business or business location by 100%, except as provided herein.”

“The New Mexico Department of Public Safety, the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Department of the Environment, and all other State departments and agencies are authorized to take all appropriate steps to ensure compliance with this Order,” the executive order continued.

As of May 1, New Mexico has had 123 coronavirus deaths out of a population of a little more than two million, which equals 59 coronavirus deaths per million residents, less than one-third of the average for the country of 196 coronavirus deaths per million residents, according to Worldomoter.

To date, just five percent of those who have been tested in the state have been confirmed as positive (3,411 out of 67,869 tested, according to the COVID Tracking Project as of May 1. Late Monday the New Mexico Department of Health announced that there are now 3,513 cases of coronavirus in the state.) This is far less than the national average of 16 percent of those who were tested that were positive as of May 1 (1,068,892 out of 6,322,ooo  million tested). Only 172 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized in the state.

The criteria for a Phase One reopening included in the guidelines established by the Trump administration for state governments last month included three different areas of focus: cases, symptoms, and hospitals.

For cases, the guidelines specified meeting either of two criteria: (1) Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period OR (2) Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).

For hospitals, the guidelines specified the requirement to meet both of two criteria: (1) Treat all patients without crisis care, AND (2) Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.

For symptoms, the guidelines specified the requirement to meet both of two criteria: (1) Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period, AND (2) Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.

Gov. Lujan Grisham made no mention of the Trump administration’s Phase One guidelines in her statement announcing her renewal of the stay-at-home executive order until May 15 on Thurdsay, nor did she cite any actual data for cases, hospitals, and symptoms.

Instead, the governor’s decision was apparently based, in part, on epidemiological models developed specifically for the state at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is located in the state, as KOB reported:

Using new projections based on research from Los Alamos National Lab, Dr. David Scrase of the Human Services Department said he expects cases in New Mexico to continue to grow over next six weeks. The models predict 7,200 COVID-19 cases by beginning of June.

Dr. Scrase also said all 14 ICU beds in McKinley County area are full. Patients in the area are being transported to Albuquerque, where adjustments are being made to expand ICU capabilities because ICU beds at the major hospitals are also full.

At a national level, similar epidemiological models have been developed primarily for the purpose of determining whether the country as a whole has had sufficient hospital capacity to handle anticipated coronavirus patient regular hospital bed, ICU hospital bed, and ventilator requirements.

The most well known of these models, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evalaution (IHME) model, has vastly overstated hospital capacity requirements, claiming that many states would not have sufficient capacity and the country as a whole would need more than three times its available hospital capacity. As the actual coronavirus data has come in, it has become clear that those projections vastly overstated hospital capacity requirements.

The new Los Alamos National Lab projections anticipate a doubling of the current number of coronavirus cases New Mexico over the next month.

By the guidelines for Phase One provided to states by the Trump administration, New Mexico appears to have met the criteria for cases, with a downward trend in the percentage of positive cases, and hospitals, with only 172 current coronavirus hospitalizations. It is unclear where the state stands on symptoms, as the New Mexico Department of Health has not provided that data.

The fourteen-day trends in the state in terms of actual new cases has been relatively steady, while the percentage of those who have been been tested has been downward, according to the COVID Tracking Project. A chart illustrating recent coronavirus test results in the state is included below:

Coronavirus Test Results in New Mexico

(April 16, 2020 to May 1, 2020)

Date New Tests New Positives % Positive Total Tests Positives  % Positive
April 16 544 77 14.2% 33,394 1,484 4.4%
April 17 1,094 113 10.3% 34,488 1,597 4.6%
April 18 1,125 114 10.1% 35,613 1,711 4.8%
April 19 1,019 87 8.5% 36,632 1,798 4.9%
April 20 410 47 11.5% 37,042 1,845 5.0%
April 21 1,713 126 7.4% 38,755 1,971 5.1%
April 22 2,122 101 4.8% 40,877 2,072 5.1%
April 23 355 138 38.9% 41,232 2,210 5.4%
April 24 5,331 169 3.2% 46,563 2,379 5.1%
April 25 4,947 142 2.9% 51,510 2,521 4.9%
April 26 2,225 139 6.2% 53,735 2,660 5.0%
April 27 2,880 66 2.3% 56,615 2,726 4.8%
April 28 2,188 97 4.4% 58,803 2,823 4.8%
April 29 2,942 151 5.1% 61,745 2,974 4.8%
April 30 3,340 239 7.2% 65,085 3,213 4.9%
May 1 2,784 198 7.1% 67,869 3,411 5.0%

With 3,411 cases of coronavirus as of May 1, New Mexico has 1,690 cases per million residents, about half of the national average, which is 3,397 cases per million as of May 1. If the Los Alamos National Lab projections that the number of coronavirus cases in the state will increase to 7,200 by the beginning of June proves to be accurate, the New Mexico’s per capita cases of coronavirus on June 1 will slightly exceed the national average of per capita cases as of May 1, one month earlier.

New Mexico’s Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce blasted Grisham’s failure to open the state back up as motivated by partisan politics:

Today’s comments by Gov. Lujan Grisham continue to demonstrate that she favors out of state corporate giants over the little guy–the locally owned mom-and-pop stores that drive New Mexico. While we appreciate that the governor is trying to move forward and ease some restrictions, her new changes fall far short of what’s needed. There is no equity of treatment for our businesses. Until small businesses have the same rules as the national chains, there’s favoritism and discrimination. This is something that not only cannot be tolerated, but will continue to destroy livelihoods and lives in New Mexico. The governor must understand that small businesses can operate safely with the same health precautions as the big box stores. She cannot discriminate.

On Monday, the mayor of Grants, New Mexico, a small city of 9,000 about 80 miles west of Albuquerque, defied the governor’s stay-at-home order and authorized “non-essential” businesses to open. Grants is located in Cibola County, which has had 52 coronavirus cases and three coronavirus deaths as of May 1, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Diane Rowe, the owner of Papas Pawn & Gun, a small retail business in Grants that had opened up and was observing social distancing, said that later that day “six or seven State Police officers surrounded my small shop, and it was really upsetting.”

Rowe added.

That was a total show of force. They came to give me a court summons, treated me like I was a criminal, not a shop owner. Later I got a notice from the State that I was being fined $60,000. My husband is a veteran who is disabled and we don’t have any employees. This fine will kill us. It’s the end. I don’t know what to do.

The New Mexico Republican Party reacted to the intimidation and fining of Rowe:

Local communities and owners must have a stronger voice to decide when establishments can reopen, and all must be treated with fairness and equity. The governor’s order has led to threats and intimidation.

This was a violation of Rowe’s civil rights and Constitutional rights and another unjust action against businesses trying to survive, both as a result of policies decreed by Gov. Lujan Grisham. Rowe believes her treatment is disgraceful and says other businesses who depend on local consumers will soon be obsolete.

The governor continues to show favoritism for big box stores, taking millions of New Mexico dollars out of state, and neglecting the little guy, local businesses who keep our our local economies humming. The governor refuses to acknowledge that small businesses, like Papas Pawn & Gun, can provide and maintain social distancing and other health measures just like the national chains, that are packing shoppers in their aisles daily. This is blatant preferential treatment by the Lujan Grisham Administration.

Small businesses in Michigan, Ohio, and several other states that have been shut down by executive orders that deem them “unessential” have taken to the federal courts to be allowed to reopen, arguing that their constitutional due process rights have been denied.


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