SANTA FE – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is ordering workers at retail stores and restaurants to wear face coverings as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, starting with big box stores and major grocery stores on Wednesday.
The requirement extends to other essential businesses starting on Monday. Lujan Grisham made the announcement in a video news conference as state health officials warned that current trends in coronavirus infections might compel the state to extend a stay-at-home order past May 15.
Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the state has not yet achieved a uniform downward trend in infections and aggregated cellphone data shows that residents are traveling more.
“It’s possible we are getting close to a peak” in daily infections, Scrase said. “We are not actually seeing that downward trend.”
New Mexico health officials on Tuesday confirmed six new deaths and 107 infections linked to the coronavirus pandemic. That brought the statewide total for confirmed infections to 4,138, with 162 deaths.
Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced that the state will begin systematically testing prison inmates for the first time. By May 13, the state intends to test all guards and staff, along with 25% of inmates. Incoming inmates will be tested and isolated from the general prison population for 14 days as a precaution against virus transmission.
The governor also announced that federal recovery funds will be channeled into so-called hazard pay for child care workers, with full-time workers receiving an additional $700 a month in recognition of their critical role in society.
Lujan Grisham said it’s likely that many child care workers can earn more currently by collecting unemployment benefits that include an extra $600 on top of the state’s ordinary maximum benefit of $461.
Concerns about new infections extended Tuesday to a meatpacking plant in southern New Mexico, where more than 400 workers have been tested after one employee at the facility turned up positive for COVID-19. Results were pending after test kits for the workers were flown by the Civil Air Patrol to the state Health Department’s lab in Albuquerque for quick processing.
The rapid testing was done to provide information needed to keep the plant operating safely for employees as well as the public. Officials didn’t identify the plant.
“We are grateful to plant management who voluntarily reached out to have their staff tested after one employee tested positive last week,” said David Morgan, a spokesman with the Health Department. “The plant is still safely operating, and employees already are following all state and federal guidelines for safe food handling.”
The meat plant under scrutiny is located in Doña Ana County, where at least 170 total virus infections have been confirmed – far fewer than McKinley, Bernalillo, Sandoval and San Juan counties. McKinley County, which includes Gallup and part of the Navajo Nation, accounts for about three of every 10 cases statewide.
In southern New Mexico, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has recruited two Hollywood actors to help raise money for areas of Doña Ana County that were already struggling before the pandemic. Colonias – the unincorporated, low-income areas along the U.S.-Mexico border – often lack adequate housing and potable water, but the issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Richardson’s philanthropic foundation is partnering with The Las Cruces Sun-News to promote a relief fund, the newspaper reported this week. Richardson says he reached out to Edward James Olmos and Danny Trejo to see if they would join.
The fund has amassed $40,000. The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico will process applications for those looking for assistance. The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico will manage the fund.
Trejo runs his own taco restaurants in Los Angeles, where he has been helping to hand out food to families and health care workers.