Families prepare for extended school closures in New Mexico


In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020, photo New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, right, announces a public health emergency in response to the state’s first positive tests for COVID-19, at a news conference in Santa Fe, N.M., also attended by Human Services Secretary David Scrase, left. Her administration has banned many gatherings of 100 or more people at spaces such as auditoriums and stadiums as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Students picked up laptop computers and books Friday from school to settle into life at home without public gatherings for at least three weeks as New Mexico authorities tried to isolate 10 confirmed infections from the new coronavirus.

New Mexico is closing K-12 schools for three weeks in its effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Officials also have banned mass gatherings that involve 100 or more people in spaces such as stadiums or auditoriums as a way to limit the spread of the virus.

The moves came as the state confirmed the 10th positive test for coronavirus. The new cases include household members in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties of those who had previously tested positive as well as a Santa Fe County woman in her 20s who recently traveled to New York. At least two of the infected people in New Mexico have been hospitalized and are in stable condition.

At the same time, state officials including Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart have said they are concerned about the potential for “community spread” of the virus from unspecified local contact.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged during a news conference Friday that the closures are difficult decisions and are having social and economic impacts.

She asked the public for help in limiting their contact, washing their hands and finding ways to pitch in as state officials “do everything we can to minimize the negative impacts of this public health emergency.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 60,000 have so far recovered.

The state on Friday announced efforts to ease the burden of school closures on families, saying cafeterias would remain open and planning was underway to distribute meals to those students who can’t come to school. About 70% of students statewide are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch.

Student assessments also will be delayed as a result of the closure.

New Mexico labor officials say they would be waiving weekly work search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits, and the state is adjusting its loan guarantee programs to make capital available to business owners whose operations are severely impacted by the health emergency.

The order against gatherings came from Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel and provides exemptions for people at airports, mass transit sites, shopping malls, homeless shelters, courthouses, health care facilities, places of worship, weddings and funerals.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese that includes Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other parts of central and northern New Mexico also has closed its churches and schools until further notice to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

State health officials are emphasizing concern for the elderly who are considered the most vulnerable to effects of the virus, distributing signs at nursing homes that discourage most visits.

At a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Santa Fe, banker Floyd Morelos was turned away at the entrance from an attempt to visit his 85-year-old mother who suffers from dementia and can’t answer the phone on her own.

“It’s a good thing. I’m glad that there are restrictions,” he said. “I was wondering when they were going to do this because I could see it coming.”

State health officials said New Mexico’s capacity to test for coronavirus infections tripled to about 7,400 after nonprofit TriCore Reference Laboratories announced Thursday it had begun processing diagnostic tests of respiratory specimens for the COVID-19 virus.

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