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As it happened: Governor provides updates on coronavirus spread, special session

Michael McDevitt
Las Cruces Sun-News

SANTA FE - Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham provided update on the continuing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across New Mexico on Thursday. Her press conference was streamed live on Facebook, which you can watch above.

Wednesday saw 2,897 new coronavirus cases in New Mexico, the state's highest daily new case total of the pandemic. It was the second straight day of record-high cases.

On Thursday, the state reported a new record high of 3,675 new cases.

Doña Ana County recorded a record high 338 daily new cases Tuesday. Nearly 1 in 20 residents in the county have contracted the highly transmissible disease.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a virtual press conference Nov. 19, 2020.

Deaths and hospitalizations have skyrocketed in the state to new highs. Restrictions on businesses were tightened yesterday to close in-person business at large retailers, such as Hobby Lobby, which don't generate a third of sales from essential goods.

Last week, the governor announced a "reset" of restrictions on businesses and other activities in the wake of the worsening pandemic. It included the suspension once again of indoor dining, tightened capacities at businesses deemed essential, the closure of in-person services at businesses deemed non-essential and a two-week shelter in place order.

Lujan Grisham also said a special legislative session would convene Tuesday with the goal of giving assistance to businesses and workers hurt by the renewed shutdown orders.

More recent COVID-19 news:

4:45 p.m. The governor, after some more questions from the press, is talking about the staggering toll of the pandemic. She said people need to stay home as much as possible to curb this.

"Try not to have the typical holiday Thanksgiving," she said, telling people to look forward instead to next year.

4:25 p.m. More details on the special session. She said she wants it to be focused and last only one day this coming Tuesday. It'll likely dole out $300 million in CARES Act money, the governor said.

She said the plan is for the funds to go toward unemployment, an extra $300 a week, grants to small businesses and housing assistance.

She said the economic assistance will hopefully help prevent people from having to choose between health and economic security.

Lujan Grisham said a federal stimulus is still badly needed, as well as getting federally appropriated testing funding to states including New Mexico. The governor said she recommended to Biden and his transition team a regional approach to battling the pandemic.

4:19 p.m. Governor addressing Biden Administration rumors. She said she has no other role in the works right now other than her current one, which is as one of the president-elect's co-chairpersons advising his transition in relation to the pandemic, among other issues.

4:10 p.m. The governor said all New Mexicans will have to get used to getting tested numerous times over the next year, even more often for people in essential and high risk jobs.

Lujan Grisham reacting now to a question from the Associated Press about teacher vacations playing a major factor in in-person school closures. The governor said the virus spares no one, not even children. People should not be traveling, she said, not even neighborhood-to neighborhood.

The governor said she takes every death personally. She said the priority is to get kids back in school. 

"We haven't managed the virus as a country," she said, adding the country hasn't a safe way to get kids back to school yet.

A KRQE reporter is asking about panic buying and long waits from lines at large retailers and grocery stores. He asks the governor to respond or if there's any way the state can ease this.

"We're really disappointed and dismayed" by the hoarding, the governor said. Grocery stores are deemed essential and are allowed to stay open. She said the state has a responsibility to figure out the line issue.

"We don't want people waiting in line," she said. "We're working with this industry to come up with some better responses."

3:48 p.m. The governor said the county-by-county color-coded reopening criteria doesn't put any counties in the green yet. 

But she's optimistic that spread could go down in the next week. What's tough is overcoming the immediate spread. Reopenings could begin in some counties the first week of December if spread is able to be reduced. Scrase said at this point, a flattened curve of 2,000 cases per day is preferable to the exponential rise right now.

Dan Boyd from the Albuquerque Journal asked for an updated on the governor's proposed special legislative session to provide economic relief to businesses and workers. The governor said it will be called for this coming Tuesday.

"We want to get this relief out to New Mexicans," she said.

3:41 p.m. As of today, the state's hospital system could soon be completely overwhelmed. Sixty medical/surgical beds are available statewide, and 29 ICU beds are available, data shows.

"A Zoom Thanksgiving is better than an intensive care unit Christmas," Scrase said. 

"The country is at a breaking point," Lujan Grisham said.

The governor said the reality is New Mexico has less resources than other states, and that it exacerbates parts of the crisis. She said the state can't create nurses where they don't exist.

The governor gives a shoutout to public health officials, health care workers and other first responders. But she said the state's resources are stretched thin and residents must do more to help the state reduce the exponential transmission.

3:30 p.m. Scrase is emphasizing the important of wearing a mask to protect yourself as well as others from spreading the virus.

"Masks aren't perfect," Scrase said, but he wants to dispel the myth that someone who gets infected, and who wore a mask, is proof masks don't work. He said masks are a reduction measure, not completely preventative.

"Masks absolutely work," Scrase said. "Please wear one ... It's something we can all do."

Scrase said because of how highly transmissible the virus is, even people within the same household should wear masks if one person gets infected to reduce the chances of spread. He said although it's intrusive, it could help reduce spread.

Scrase said we are "straining our system" with the levels of coronavirus cases we are at.

Scrase said the state was saddened by the recent death of a 12-year-old New Mexican from COVID-19.

The Monday reset has begun to reduce the miles residents travel, which could help bring cases under control.

"You all probably know" what color the reopening criteria metrics are, Scrase says.

3:19 p.m. The governor is now recapping for residents what remains closed and what remains open after her two-week "reset" order began Monday.

"This is tough and small businesses struggle," the governor says. "But if we don't do this, we overwhelm the health care system."

Lujan Grisham said New Mexicans are falsely relying on early negative tests that could be false indicators of not being infected. She said that can lead to New Mexicans thinking they're uninfected and exposing more people.

The governor is now asking New Mexicans to avoid gathering with family from outside their immediate household this Thanksgiving. She's also recommending residents try to order a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal from a local restaurant.

Even outdoors, and even small gatherings, are "high risk," the governor said.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase has now taken over. 

3:10 p.m. The governor reminds New Mexicans that even non-fatal cases of coronavirus have been shown to leave some with new chronic health conditions.

Now, Lujan Grisham is showing how exponential spread has occurred in the state. In just one week, case totals have risen from 60,000 to 70,000. Deaths have also increased exponentially.

The governor is showing a slide showing the state has added 200 new deaths in just two weeks, previously unheard of.

"Having the infection means it's spreading," Lujan Grisham said. "Spreading the infection means more people will die," the governor said.

"If we don't get this under control as quickly as possible, you're going to see 200 deaths in seven days," Lujan Grisham said.

3:05 p.m.  A new record for new coronavirus cases begins our press conference, 3,675 new cases. That brings us to 74,116 total cases in the state.

Twelve more people have died from the disease, bringing the state's total to 1,302. 774 people are hospitalized with 125 on ventilators in the state.

"We've got to do better," the governor says. "This is a deadly virus."

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.