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New Mexico is one of many states taking urgent action this week against new surges of COVID-19. As case counts soar and hospitals near capacity, Amna Nawaz talks to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on her latest stay-at-home order, how officials and lawmakers are approaching record case counts and what she thinks her state and the country need to get a grip on the pandemic.
As coronavirus cases across the country continue to rise, only three states currently have a stay-at-home or curfew order in place.
Amna Nawaz talked to the leader of one state under lockdown.
It took nearly 100 days for New Mexico to reach its first 10,000 coronavirus cases, but the state went from 60,000 to 70,000 in just seven days.
Today, COVID numbers there are increasing exponentially, and hospitals are at 90 to 100 percent capacity.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued stay-at-home orders earlier this week, and she has called the state legislature into special session to deal with the virus' spread and the economic fallout.
She joins us now.
And, governor, welcome back to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.
We should mention, the total number of COVID cases in New Mexico now top 74,000. Deaths there top 1,300. You have had to call in traveling nurses, brought in mortuary trailers. You need this shutdown to work right now.
And, previously, you said enforcement was part of the problem. How about now? Is it different? Are you able to enforce this shutdown?
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham:
So, it depends on personal compliance, really, incredibly hard to attain in any state. This one's no different. We have had a mandatory mask mandate since May.
Getting our businesses to support us more productively, I think, has been a bit of a challenge. But I have to say, today, they get it. And we have been incredibly firm about, if you have got four different rapid responses, positive case, we come in, we close for 24 hours, get everybody tested, if you get four of those in a two-week period, you're closed for two weeks.
And so they're now really coming to the table with solutions. So, I'm feeling better about enforcement and compliance. But we need a reset in our state and we're going to get it.
What about on the individual level, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up?
The virus spread there, we know, is largely due to these small kind of family gatherings. You're asking people in New Mexico to limit their gatherings to five.
How do you begin to enforce that?
So, you ask one of the most important questions. You can't enforce that.
There is no way anywhere in the country we're going to be able to say, look, you brought another household together. There was 10 of you having Thanksgiving dinner.
But we are hopeful that people will really take heed. We lost our first child in New Mexico. We have more in the hospital. This deadly virus doesn't care how old you are. It doesn't care who you are, where you live, your political affiliation.
And we are very nervous about what Thanksgiving could produce, right, a month later. And we have been doing as much productive messaging. And while we appreciate that Dr. Fauci is doing that, this is really what the federal government did by telling people, you don't have to listen to your governors, you don't have to care about public health issues or the public health order, and this virus is a hoax.
And it just gives people an opportunity to say, we don't have to worry about it. And that is the most dangerous set of circumstances moving forward until we get a vaccine.
So, we're nervous. But we're doing all the right messaging. And we — that's part of the reset, right? If you limit where people go after they have been exposed, then I can limit the spread of the virus. So we're taking all of that into consideration.
Well, New Mexico has seen the same trends we have seen nationwide, right, which is that, disproportionately, Black and brown and Native communities have been hit.
The Navajo Nation, for example, has had some of the highest per capita infection rates in the country. How are you helping this community? What additional steps are you taking, in coordination with your neighbors in Arizona and Utah and Colorado, surging help to these specific communities? What specifically are you doing there?
Well, I would say, actually, New Mexico has been very effective and led, I'd like to say, without diminishing the very difficult challenges and decisions the governors of the states that neighbor us, Utah and Arizona, where the Navajo Nation is embedded in all three states.
We have not been as effective coordinating. And, again, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal effort here, is also not coordinating, and they're not very supportive.
We have a very strong relationship with the Navajo Nation. So they have a very strict set of containment issues. And we are engaged in that. We provide traffic support, food, water, personal supplies, educational supports, testing, contact tracing. We're doing that.
And we have crushed this virus in Indian country in New Mexico three times. And we were lucky not to have it get into every single tribal community. I don't think we're going to be that lucky this time, given the rhetoric right up until the election. It just created that perfect storm.
What happens around the country and what happens in the other states will find its way right back here. So, basically, all of those tribal nations are containing themselves. We're providing all the necessary supports, so that they can do that effectively.
But it's been really tough. And I give them great credit for their leadership and courageous actions, which, no question, are saving lives in New Mexico.
Governor, we should mention you are also now part of the Biden/Harris transition team.
You were on a call just yesterday with a number of governors and president-elect Biden and vice president-elect Harris. You discussed, among other things, the pandemic response.
And I'm curious. Without the official transition in place, without that coordination, particularly when your state and so many others are facing this dire situation with the pandemic response, do you think that the transition should be doing more to force cooperation?
They mentioned legal options being on the table. Do you want to see them force those kind of options, specifically when it comes to pandemic cooperation?
You know, I have to say, I think the Biden/Harris team is doing this right. And I know we're all frustrated, and the fact that the current occupant in the White House is behaving in this untenable way, which will result in more deaths from the pandemic, and, frankly, more economic harm, which means it'll take us longer to address all of that.
And that's before we talk about the complications for vaccine distribution in each of the states.
I think that what Biden and Harris are trying to do — and I agree with them — is build support from the ground up at the state level. We're making all the decisions. We're doing all the execution of efforts, because we're not getting any help from the federal government.
And I think and I agree that they see that as the quickest way to get Congress to act. It's the quickest way to get information. The National Governors Association is going to provide data about our hospitals, about our plans, about our efforts, about our infection rates, about our cases per 100,000, all the kinds of outbreak strategies that get you ahead, because here's what happened.
We don't want any of these false choices. I want a strong economy and I want to save lives.
But if you don't have people who believe the virus is real, then you end up teeter-tottering between those two parameters. And we don't want to do that.
What I need is a president who believes that public health efforts can and will work, who will model that behavior nationwide, who will work with each of the governors to bolster their responses, who will create regional systems that keep me, right, not having to fall apart when something goes on in Arizona and Texas, and vice versa, so that Arizona and Texas get the support that they need.
That makes sense to me. And they're very clear. We have to have robust testing and contact tracing for another year, all the way through vaccine distribution. I felt very optimistic. And every governor weighed in about needing a stimulus package. And this is an administration that is dedicated to that priority immediately.
I think that's the real focus. That's going to make a huge difference in trust, credibility, and getting the pandemic under control.
Governor, we're wishing you and everyone in New Mexico a safe Thanksgiving holiday. And thank you very much for your time.
That's New Mexico's governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham.
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