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New Mexico declares state of emergency as coronavirus breaks out

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday declared a state of emergency Wednesday shortly after announcing that New Mexico has its first three cases of COVID-19.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency Wednesday shortly after announcing that New Mexico has its first three cases of COVID-19.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Lujan Grisham recommended that large public events be postponed to contain the spread of the virus. “We are not panicked. We are prepared,” she said.

Two of the state’s first cases are a husband and wife, both in their 60s, from Socorro County, south of Albuquerque, according to the state Department of Health’s release. Both recently returned from Egypt and are at home in isolation.

The third case is a woman in her 70s from Bernalillo County – encompassing Albuquerque – who recently traveled to the New York City area. She is also at home in isolation, according to the department.

There have been zero confirmed cases in San Juan County.

Results from the three tests are presumed positive but are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lujan Grisham said the state would cancel all large events that it controlled, and she encouraged local and private organizations to do the same. She added the state prohibited out-of-state travel for its employees, and all non-essential state workers would be told to work remotely. Lujan Grisham – who previously served as the state Health Department secretary – said the administration has been prepared for COVID-19 for weeks and continues to provide updated information to local governments.

In response to the breakout, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management announced it increased the level of awareness in its operations center to a “heightened situation awareness” but not a full activation of the emergency operations center. “Essentially, a situation has been identified which requires monitoring and coordination,” the county said in a news release.

San Juan County officials said they have prepared for a response to the coronavirus as it spreads.

“This includes operational planning to make sure vital services are available to residents in any event as well as emergency response, should the situation warrant,” the news release said.

Because COVID-19 carries a higher risk to seniors and people with compromised immune systems, San Juan County has asked people to consider limiting visits to those facilities. A few states and local health departments have even restricted visitation.

“We highly recommend that families and visitors refrain from visiting their loved ones at this time in order to protect their health and well-being,” San Juan County officials said in a statement. “Please check with your facility for other options to ‘visit’ throughout other electronic methods.”

During her news conference, Lujan Grisham said “the state is nowhere near our capacity to effectively test” all residents, and officials are looking into establishing drive-thru testing sites. Medical officials said the state is looking to expand testing to private labs to assist with an increased workload as the virus spreads.

To address residents’ concerns and limit the number of people who seek testing at hospitals and other care centers, the state has established a 24/7 hotline – 855-600-3453 – to direct residents on the proper protocol if they are experiencing symptoms.

lweber@durangoherald.com