Rough transcript of 3/18 public health update

March 18, 2020

What follows is a rough transcript of the state of New Mexico public health update on March 18:

GOVERNOR MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: OK. Well, thank you for waiting. Sorry that I’m late, New Mexico. We want to make sure the info we provide to every New Mexican is as up to date and current as possible. That’s our job. Before I tell you about our case status and testing, as well as countless support from many other health experts doing incredible work to make sure technical questions are answered.  Really want to do shout-outs. There are thousands of New Mexicans who without a public health order have stood up in this crisis in ways that quite frankly as a proud governor I expected, but it’s important to let every New Mexican know the incredible participation: So let’s quickly do that. First responders, police officers. The men and women on the front lines of our health care system statewide. Government workers at all levels who are shoring up necessary, essential services, and are putting those together in ways that are frankly – I can’t enumerate all of them, they’re too expansive. Let’s make sure we are clear we have two bodies of workers in this state who are not getting enough praise and thanks: that’s our child care workers who in more circumstances than not are some of our least paid workers in the state and who are they providing services to? The families who are our health care workers and our first responders, without which – and at-risk families. If they weren’t standing up child care systems, we wouldn’t have public safety or a health care system.

 

[Extensive thanks to grocery workers as well.]

 

That’s allowing us to increase our capacity, including standing up drive-through sites – so that you’re not going into your doctor’s office and you’re not going into a hospital. We don’t want that if you’re showing symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate and call the DOH hotline.

 

So far we have 28 positives, about 1.6 percent of the approximate 1720 tests that have been run in New Mexico so far. An additional 500 tests are being run today.

 

We’ve also been interrupted in getting the equipment – and I’m sure you’ve heard this around the country – higher capacity machines. Not so labor intensive. Not just one person in one lab with one sample – we want to use all of the technology and experience of the state possible, but the supply chain cannot be interrupted.

 

I’m confident that the White House is clear that when we do our job to test, to keep you safe and we’re keeping Texas safe and Utah safe and Colorado safe.

 

And when we do that, we protect the safety of the country. And we increase the protection and safety of the world. So the more we do the more we’re doing for everyone.

 

I want to announce a series of orders that we are prepared to provide today that will go into effect tomorrow.

 

As I’ve stated before, basic context here is: no social contact. Limit it. Social distancing, social distancing, social distancing. The more you do, the more control we have over COVID-19. All mass gatherings are prohibited. All restaurants, bars, breweries, eateries and other food establishments will be limited to takeout service and home delivery only.

 

Shopping malls, flea markets, movie theaters are also directed to close by virtue of an order that will be effective tomorrow.

 

Typical office environments – where you’re not engaged in essential operations – should be immediately limiting operations to the extent feasible. People should think about having no more than 10 staff on-hand. Frankly, if  they can do so, they should go further.

 

All casinos, horse racing facilities, and attendant restaurant or bar operations shall close. This does not include Tribal casinos. To their credit, our sovereign nations have nearly 100% closed or are in the process of closing their operations. We’ll continue working closely with our tribal partners.

 

Hotels, motels, and other places of lodging shall immediately go to 50% of their capacity. One issue related to our hotels is that we will need places for health care workers to stay – so there is a productive reason for that threshold. Thinking through the reason for an emergency and making sure we have the capacity to respond.

 

This order will have very specific information about enforcement. And while I started this press conference thanking New Mexico – and I want to – there are still far too many New Mexicans who are coming into contact with one another. We take this very seriously. My job is to protect the health and safety and wellbeing of every first responder, law enforcement, health care, child care, men and women who are ensuring that we can keep food in our kitchens.

 

All public and private folks we have control over in an emergency – we will enforce compliance.

 

We will also ensure that every New Mexican has access to basic medical and hygiene products.

 

And people have been worried – and I can appreciate that worry. Every emergency is difficult. But panic doesn’t help us manage this in a way that enhances our ability to protect you. So as people rush to grocery stores…this order will ensure that those supplies are available by limiting hoarding.

 

The federal government and your state leaders – including me – have reached out directly to the providers of those essential supplies. But we have to do a better job of ensuring that people have regular access to those goods.

 

Shout-out to websites. You can see the phone numbers to the left and right of me – and we want people to continue calling; it’s helpful to us.

 

Some grocery stores are going to open an hour early to provide access to elderly people so they have access to the supplies they need.

 

Many spas, many gyms, many restaurants moved proactively to closing.

 

What that should say to every New Mexican is that we are clearly in this together; we are clear that we need to limit our contact. And that the more that we do safely, the safer we are.

 

My ultimate goal: to keep you safe, to ensure that you don’t get this virus, to make sure that we don’t see a surge and overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers.

 

My ultimate goal is to keep New Mexican safe. I will do everything that gets me to this place.

These decisions are hard and painful and difficult but we’ll get through it. And the more we do on the front end, the safer we’ll be and the more ready we’ll be to stand up our small businesses and our economy again.

 

It’s painful. It has huge economic consequences. It has huge personal economic consequences. And we must take care of those. Which is why we’ve opened up unemployment insurance payments; it’s why we’re looking for insurance for every uninsured child care worker – premiums paid, treatment covered if they get COVID-19. These are painful, but we will get through it.

 

And the more we do on the front end, the more we do, the safer we will be, and the better prepared we’ll be to start up our economy and small businesses again.

 

Dr. Smelser: Thank you Governor. Thank you New Mexicans. I’m Dr. Chad Smelser of DOH. Of the 5 cases we’re reporting today, two are travel-related and one has no known exposure. That means spread in our community.

 

Case is in Bernalillo County, largest population and most cases. That would mean a need to institute social distancing and mitigation techniques. Thankfully we’ve already started those initiatives. Also counting on everyone in the state … to continue those strong efforts in order to minimize our person-to-person interactions. That’s what’s going to help us slow the spread and combat this pandemic.

 

Q1: [About enforcing compliance to public health orders]

 

Governor: We have the power to fine: civil and potentially criminal penalties and licensure issues for folks that don’t comply. I appreciate the question but understand we know this is incredibly painful to those businesses. That pain is felt everywhere. That’s something I take into consideration that I know impacts the viability of these businesses. Painful. I have to protect the state, wellbeing of our healthcare workers and our police officers. That means if these penalties must go out they will. Must be fairly administered statewide. I will do everything in my power to do that.

 

Q2: Can you tell us any more about the case of unknown exposure, age, etc?

A: I believe we can.

 

Dr. Smelser: Thank you for that question. That patient is a Bernalillo County resident. A female in her 40s. All five of those new cases we listed today are recovering at home.

 

Q3: Testing. More needs to be done to add to the testing capability. Lovelace had to shut drive-through. Seems to be the bottleneck. 1) What is state doing and 2) is the state setting up its own testing sites? Where, and where is it aimed?

 

Governor: Yes and yes. Are we doing more to expand our testing capacity? The answer is yes. And you mentioned what could appear as if Lovelace started and stopped. So if you don’t mind, I’ll talk about limitations of standing up test sites. Something called PPE: personal protective equipment. Masks for health care workers, surgical masks for sick, gowns and gloves. Typically gets to the state. National stockpile. This country manufactures that. In this global crisis the federal government has withheld those stockpiles. And frankly I agree with their decision; I disagree they have the capacity to execute it and I disagree that they have done so effectively. I want to be cautious if we continue to burn through that… I have to make sure if you need hospital care we’re ready. Orders are beginning to come in. 2) What about swabs, getting personal sample and if not a 1-person test tube effort. Large high capacity machines, NM has two and we’re working on making sure both can operate simultaneously. We’re not quite there. The FDA has to approve COVID-19 requirements. I’m dissatisfied with the federal response. We’re pushing them. We know what can occur from prior experience with a pandemic, I typically ask our health care partners to proactively go out there. I think we can increase capacity at the labs. Today, we can run 700 a day. We have the potential as we get equipment to do much better than that. I don’t want any interruption in our supply chain and I’ll make clear [with the White House] and ensure that they stay clear. We have … Come on up, Secretary… going to stand up 5 more. One in Las Cruces. If we have a positive case we want to know immediately. Not an issue about picking a metro area over another. Never an instance where a hospital or lab… .. we can test you anywhere. What are we doing to build capacity? I gave you … one more thing: as Secretary Kathy Kunkel tells you about the sites, I also want her to talk to you about who should be going to these sites to get a test. I know you’re nervous. I know you are. 90 percent of New Mexico is being attacked by juniper in this environment – that feels scary. I’m going to make sure… you hear about sites we have up, where we’re going and what you should do before you go to one of those testing sites.

 

Sec. Kunkel: We have six sites that have been operating around the state. We are setting up sites through the Department of Health: Roswell, Las Vegas, potentially Taos, Cruces, and we’re working with the city of Albuquerque to set up a site at the west side shelter.

 

Only people who are symptomatic should go to these sites. There’s intense screening. Yesterday we worked with all of the medical sites to standardize our screening process to focus on people who are sick and to conserve our resources.

 

Governor: This is changing literally every few minutes. We protect people by being dynamic. We protect people by being dynamic…But it changes rapidly. If you have COVID-19 symptoms – fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, that’s one we really want to address. Make sure you do what you ought to be doing.

 

What’s the next group that we’re thinking about getting in the queue? People who think they have come into contact with a positive COVID-19.

 

The next group has some of these symptoms, but not all. You may have traveled, but you may not have the confirmation, but you’ve been in high-risk areas around the world. These are individuals we need information about. Our goal here is to show you that you’re a negative, but for each positive case, it’s roughly 34 people you’ve been in contact with, so it’s incredible work and we should do it and we’re capable of doing it well. And what are we telling people; if you do not need hospital or medical treatment, go home. Self-isolate at home. It’s the best method to control the spread of this virus.

 

Where do you go? Go home. Self isolate at home. Best method to control the spread of this virus.

 

Next question.

 

Q: Any idea how long these restrictions will last?

 

Governor: Why are we doing this? We want New Mexicans to be prepared and informed. This order goes through April 10. We’re framing things in that initial 3-week response to be consistent and keep all the orders under the same time frame. We want New Mexicans to prepare so we execute the order the next day to have time to think and get it done. Not easy. Impacts thousands of workers. Able to extend any orders as long as necessary to keep New Mexico safe and avoid spikes and unnecessary reliance on our health care system.

 

Q: For our Spanish-speaking audience, we’ve been getting two questions over and over. When going to get tested? Some are afraid. And is there a number to call where someone speaks Spanish?

 

Governor: Are we prepared not just in Spanish but in other languages? Absolutely never consider that we should not have Spanish lines. As we’re doing nurse advice lines, so the answer is yes. We’re working on translating all of the materials we have in any number of languages including tribal languages so there’s no language barriers. So there’s no barrier to you getting this information. Spanish – I’m sure it’s insufficient, and I’m going to take that as constructive criticism to do more.

 

For people living here who are undocumented: do not be afraid of the state of New Mexico. Do not be afraid of local government. We are working hard to protect you. We do not do this with partners who are using this information for non-immigration purposes. And that fear is real and palpable. For Census data, emergency responders…I need everyone to feel that this is a state that’s going to keep the whole state safe. If you are sick you must call us. If you have these symptoms, shortness of breath, fever, dry cough – do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to call us. This is not about immigration or enforcement; this is about public health and safety for everyone.

 

Q: Should parents prepare for the possibility of no school for the rest of the year? And secondly, some orders seem close to shelter in place. Are you considering that?

 

Governor: I’m considering everything. The more proactive we are, the safer we are. I try to make decisions in a way that helps manage these incredible disruptions. Number of programs available. Low interest loans. New Mexico is one of the first states to access $50 billion in federal funding. If trying to make payroll today a lot of businesses worry … reaching out to all of those. These are not orders to shelter in place. Not what you’re hearing about in New York and San Francisco. If these orders are not sufficient to keep social distance, we have to think of the next source: travel. I plan to write to the mayors of Santa Fe and Albuquerque and other places. The Congressional delegation has been incredibly engaged … everyone is doing their part. I want those mayors to write to the FAA to see what our options are to limit commercial travel. Same message I gave 3 weeks ago. Don’t want panic. I need New Mexicans to take seriously the precautions this state is taking. Think about finishing up that work vacation or family event and come home. We think that’s an effective way to limit incoming spread of the virus. Commercial flights still coming to New Mexico? …. Does the Governor have unilateral authority to stop them? No. Should we offer advance notice to travelers and restrict introduction of the virus and spread? Yes. Would I take further action … Yes. We’re not there mostly because people have been cooperative. I promised every New Mexican school and business that we’re going to use factual information to make proactive decisions – but if we wait too long, we’re not being proactive. Working very hard so New Mexico stays ahead of the curve. Not a competition with any other state for supplies. The federal government shouldn’t say we’re on our own. Creates panic. Whole nation under emergency declaration with unheard-of reaction. It’s serious. It’s real. There’s a lot of work going on but know this. Not every state has thought of being proactive because it’s painful. We’ve been so proactive … we are ahead of even many countries. It’s not enough. Not a competition. I feel confident we will undertake every opportunity, and we are continually engaged in capacity building. I’m a fierce advocate for New Mexico and I’m going after every single thing we need in the future to get what we need to keep New Mexico safe.

 

Q: What is the corrections department doing about a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in the prisons, and what is a contingency plan – solitary confinement?

 

Governor: We have not planned to use solitary confinement – punitive, high-risk. But anywhere you have lots of people, you have to keep them separated. Well before these public health orders, we already stopped visitation into our correction systems, and we’ve worked with all local centers to do the same in jail. Increasing free calls; families are encouraged to call, lawyers are encouraged to call. So they have stood up more phone lines, more opportunities to see their families. We did that early, because it’s a high-risk area for any state. Same issue: if there’s any strategy to prevent spread, we will do whatever it takes to limit spread in any context. We were also early in restricting visitation among our seniors …unless they’re in active dying, you cannot go. I have a mom. I did not go. I will not go. They have one phone line. It’s painful. But corrections is a high-risk area.

 

Q: Where are we on the curve?

 

Governor: I’ll go to Dr. Scrase. 1.6 percent of those tested are positives. Puts us in pretty good shape. No shape is the best shape. In that regard so far the data we have is good. Caveat: if too many people without symptoms are in this collection sample, that could be a different outcome. The more people with symptoms get tested, the better we can tell you. We will know more in 3-4 weeks but I can tell you unequivocally we’re doing exactly what we should do to be below the curve.

 

Dr. Scrase: If you look at the curves around the world, we are to the left of that peak. So we are still quite a ways out from that curve. We are not shooting for this curve, and we are counting on social isolation, we’re still early, and it gives our health care system time to gear up.

 

Q: Are there any infections inside facilities and how much transparency, do you really have into people flying home? Should they come home?

 

Governor: That debate is tough. If someone is exposed, stay where you are. Or if you know you have COVID-19. We want to know who you are and where you are. So if you are a New Mexican and you’re exhibiting symptoms or you tested positive, absolutely do not get on a plane, train or a bus. If you’re not in that category, come home, and when you get here, call the Department of Health immediately. You must self isolate for 14 days.

 

We don’t have 100 percent compliance. That’s why we’re here — ask us questions and hold your state accountable. Allow us to provide this information: They need to comply. Think about this: one elder in one small Pueblo who tests positive and gets COVID-19 has the potential to spread to hundreds in a matter of days. That wipes out Nambe, Taos. People need to think about what they’re doing to their neighbors. Let us know when you fly in. You are met by giant yellow billboards, and to immediately contact us. Not enough which is why … I’m asking mayors to start working with FAA about how to enforce that productively. That’s where our highest risk is.

 

The orders are effective tomorrow. They will go through April 10. And we are immediately reducing gatherings to 10. We are closing eateries, breweries, and bars – to dine-out only. … So if you’re a restaurant, or you’re a bar that serves food, you cannot do that as of tomorrow. Shopping centers, they must immediately cease their operations. And there are some essential services where that may not be possible. And we are mandating access to over the counter medical and hygiene supplies so we stay away from a situation where people don’t have access to them. Hotels, motels, and lodging facilities can only go to 50% capacity.

 

Q: Limiting to avoid hoarding. What does that look like?

 

Governor: Three of those items per individual. I want to do this: I’m sure many New Mexicans who are going to feel this is such an infringement on their right to purchase what they want to … but if I have a family that can’t get formula or a family can’t get toilet paper and you need over the counter pain or allergy medication, there needs to be enough. We’re not rationing or withholding, we’re leveraging. These stores – and thank you to them – nothing I’ve heard anywhere that the supply chain is problematic. It’s keeping up with stocking the shelves. And people are taking everything off the shelf.

 

I want to end with this: Your government is not panicked. Your governor is prepared to make every difficult decision to keep us safe. Every potential that does that is on the table. We’ll update our websites. Make sure people are getting info as quickly as we can get it out. Media have done an outstanding job. Keep providing that information so that the public gets it ahead of when we execute it. Also: We’re on the phones all the time. We’re working with businesses, not in an enforcement environment – but in an all together New Mexico environment.

 

This has drastic economic consequences to the state. You’re going to have to help us. [Gives health hotline] 1-855-600-3453. The other hotline is for everything else: meals, transportation, child care, products, school: everything — 1-833-551-0518

 

Cv.nmhealth.org for regular updates. We want to be completely transparent with the info you might need.

 

We’re not panicked. We’re working to be prepared. We think this is hard, has real consequences for every NM and we don’t take lightly our responsibility to keep you safe.

 

Thank you to all the workers showing up every day to make sure meals are delivered, etc.

 

I encourage people to be kind, informed, fair — just the kind of state and people we’ve always been known for.

 

We are prepared to do whatever it takes and invite constructive criticism which we’re getting about language, wait times on the phone.