Also on Saturday, the state Department of Health announced it has ordered nursing homes to limit visitation to people whose loved ones are receiving end-of-life care.
Those visitors are required when visiting to:
Those included three Bernalillo cases, one man in his 50s is isolated at home, as is a woman in her 70s. A third man, in his 80s, has been hospitalized. The Santa Fe woman also has isolated at home.
The person with the first Santa Fe case—a woman in her 60s—has also been hospitalized, Smelser says, and is in the intensive care unit. Both hospitalized patients were stabilized as of yesterday.
Smelser says the health department undertakes an extensive investigation of any presumptive cases, interviewing household members, testing when they have symptoms, and tracking their whereabouts during the 14-day incubation period. In response to a question, Smelser said there has been contact with area schools, uncovered through the "contract tracing" the department undertakes. Both he and Lujan Grisham emphasized the need to protect patients' privacy.
"We tend not to name schools and other institutions that might allow for the identification for the patients and their families," Smelser said. "We consider their privacy to be incredibly important to them as well as to our investigation so we don't have unwanted interruptions and effectively try to prevent spread in our communities."
Secretary of Human Services David Scrase emphasized the importance of social isolation to flatten the curve when it comes to spreading the infection, noting that closing schools had reduced the spread of H1N1 in 2009 in Texas, Alberta, Canada and Mexico City.
Closing the schools only works, Srase said, "if families take this seriously and adopt a principle of social isolation. If we close schools and everyone goes to the park and kids are interacting with each other, that's not social isolation. We're really asking families of New Mexico to help us with this and understand this concept of social isolation."
Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, calling the decisions to close schools "very difficult," said the state is working with all the school districts and charter schools to maintain cafeteria service through the closures, "organizing grab and go meal programs and working with other state agencies to distribute meals to kids who aren't able to come into school to get their daily meals."
Stewart said the state is waiving required instructional hours—meaning school districts will not have to make up hours lost during the closures, and working with districts to provide distance learning programs. There will be no gaps in payment to school employees, he said.
Lujan Grisham said childcare also will be available under a still-developing plan.
As for other New Mexico workers whose jobs are impacted by COVID-19, Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said beginning at 8 am on Monday the department would be waiving work-search requirements and will be "as flexible and open as we possibly can." An online form will be available to apply on the state website, he said.
The state Economic Development Department announced today two means of support for businesses impacted by COVID-19. These include a COVID-19 business loan guarantee program that will guarantee a portion of a loan or line of credit up to 80% of principal or $50,000.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also authorized the Economic Development Department to make no-interest loans to assist COVID-19 impacted businesses as well through the Local Economic Development Act.
Early Childhood Education Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said her department would be conferring on a call with providers this afternoon and is "putting together an FAQ" that will be available later today "and making sure our parents, our families and our providers have access to us."
Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal also announced today that health insurers can't impose copays, coinsurance or deductibles for COVID-19 testing or health care for New Mexicans, under an emergency rule issued today. The rule also covers pneumonia, influenza, or any disease or condition that is the subject of a public health emergency.
If consumers believe they have been unfairly billed for testing or treatment of COVID-19, they should contact the Office of the Superintendent Insurance Managed Health Care Bureau at 1-855-427-5674.
Toal also issued ordered major medical coverage and insurers that provide limited benefits coverage to notify their members whether and to what extent their policies cover testing and health care services related to COVID-19, and to advise of available full coverage options as needed. A second order requires limited benefit plan providers (such as workers compensation and automobile medical payment insurance) to let members know if their plans lack comprehensive medical coverage and provide information on where they should go to check on their eligibility to apply for and obtain such coverage.
"Gov. Lujan Grisham has made clear that New Mexico will take aggressive, proactive steps to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19. A key part of that strategy is ensuring access to free, high-quality care, including testing and treatment," said Superintendent Toal. "We thank New Mexico insurers for cooperating with OSI in the formulation of this rule."
Toal's office does not have oversight for large employers, such as the state of New Mexico, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced the state workers' health plan will follow the same guidelines Toal issued for private providers.
In city news, Santa Fe announced that as of Monday, March 16, all public libraries and recreation centers will be closed. The Municipal Recreation Sports Complex will remain open. All City closures, event / meeting cancellations, and postponements are effective through Sunday, April 5, 2020.
Over the weekend, Ski Santa Fe announced it had closed for the season in response to the virus.
The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) and Rio Metro Transit District directed the Rail Runner to cease operations.
The state has set up two numbers for New Mexicans.
For health-related issues, call: 1-855-600-3453
For other issues, call: 1-833-551-0518
All Health Department COVID-19 information available here: http://cv.nmhealth.org/