New Mexico governor warns against 'COVID fatigue' as cases increase following Labor Day

Secretary of State assures New Mexicans on planning for Nov. 3 election

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham goes over the latest data on coronavirus cases in New Mexico during a news conference at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe on  Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

This story was updated on Sept. 25 to clarify locations for early voting.

SANTA FE - Despite receiving high marks and media attention for its COVID-19 pandemic response, New Mexico has seen an increase in cases of the disease since the Labor Day holiday weekend. 

On Thursday, 239 new cases were confirmed, the state Department of Health announced, bringing the state's total closer to 30,000. Out of a total of 885,373 tests processed in the state, 28,224 (or 3.2 percent) have been positive. 

The health department had designated 15,825 of those cases (56 percent) as recovered, while 859 deaths related to the disease have been recorded. 

At a news conference livestreamed from the state Capitol building Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham attributed the increase to gatherings during Labor Day weekend as well as a spate of fair weather in much of the state, tempting people to slacken in their adherence to public health orders aiming to slow community spread of the disease. 

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Additionally, since Labor Day some school districts resumed classroom instruction, and this week some youth athletic activities also resumed under limited conditions. 

"We're still doing good work in New Mexico," the governor said, but argued the increase in cases indicated the cost of adding risk as reopening business and resuming restricted social activities proceeds. 

The rate of transmission in the state had risen above its target for reduced rate of transmission at 1.09 transmissions per individual infection, slightly higher than the goal of 1.05 or less.

Also, while laboratories in the state conduct more than 5,000 tests daily, Lujan Grisham said she wanted to see that average rise to 7,500.

Rapid responses to workplaces identifying COVID-19 cases on site have also been on the rise, with the week of Sept. 14 the busiest (at well above 200) since the end of August, with 100 more responses to workplaces than the previous week.

More:Here are the Doña Ana County businesses investigated for coronavirus

"This is problematic," the governor said. "This is an indication that we're spreading COVID, and we're spreading it right back to some of our highest risk areas."

She warned that it was a "poor indicator" of the state's trajectory, as far as further stages of reopening and normalizing more activities before widespread immunity or a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes COVID-19 disease.

In order to stay on track to reopen further, the governor warned against "COVID fatigue" and urged residents to "double down" on compliance with public health orders to wear masks in public places, avoid gatherings of more than 10, stay home as much as possible and wash hands frequently. 

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver also participated in the conference, briefing New Mexicans on deadlines for participating in the Nov. 3 election and giving assurance that county clerks' offices were preparing for a secure and trustworthy count of the ballots. 

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver discusses the November election during a news conference at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

She warned, however, that this year might not see all results announced on election night. 

Absentee voting begins on Oct. 6 in New Mexico, and early voting begins at the Doña Ana County Government Center in Las Cruces, 845 N. Motel Blvd., on that date as well. Early voting is available at alternative voting locations in the county from Oct. 17 to Oct. 31. A list of those locations is available online at

More:Doña Ana County to implement drop boxes at all early voting and Election Day sites

As of Thursday, Toulouse Oliver said 247,725 New Mexicans had applied for absentee ballots. Those ballots will be mailed beginning Oct. 6, and the deadline to apply is Oct. 20. 

Toulouse Oliver urged applying for and returning ballots as early as possible to give local election officials time to process and count the ballots. The recommended deadline for mailing completed absentee ballots is Oct. 27. The secretary also reminded New Mexicans to make sure the ballot envelope includes the required signature and last four digits of the voter's Social Security number for verification purposes.

Given the expected surge in absentee ballots arriving by mail this year, however, she said that results may not be available on the night of Nov. 3, and that this was nothing to be concerned about given that it normally takes weeks to canvass and certify election results. 

Any results announced before certification, she said, should be considered unofficial. 

She said that in-person voting would also be available in all of New Mexico's 33 counties through the early voting period as well as on Election Day, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.

For more,read our live blog of the news conference here.