- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned Thursday that family gatherings and long holiday weekends have been a source of infection for many New Mexicans who have contracted COVID-19 and that they make for the worst possible situation as health officials look to reduce the spread of the virus.

With Labor Day approaching, she asked everyone to “buckle down” and stick to the five-person limit mandated by the state’s public health order.

“It is not worth the risk,” she said during an online briefing.

Her warning comes as state officials monitor the rate of spread as a deadline approaches for determining whether public schools will be allowed to resume some in-person classes after Labor Day. She declined to make any predictions but expressed some optimism as health officials reported a continued decline in cases statewide.

An additional 177 confirmed cases were reported Thursday, bringing the total to 22,987 since the pandemic began. Two more deaths were also reported, bringing that tally to 697.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Officials said they were most concerned about the southeastern part of the state.

“That’s where we’re really focusing on testing and intervention,” said David Scrase, head of the state’s Human Services Department.

Another concern is that nearly 16% of cases in New Mexico involve people under the age of 20. That’s higher than the rest of the country, Scrase said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes 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 and death.

Scrase on Thursday also discussed the potential for lasting health problems that might result from an infection - from high blood pressure to heart issues and shortness of breath.

He and the governor urged people to continue wearing face coverings, washing their hands and staying home when possible.

“It’s a marathon,” Lujan Grisham said. “And I don’t want folks to feel like because we’re doing as well as we are that we can give it up, that we can slow up. We have to keep going. We have to keep running no matter how exhausted - and we’re all COVID tired. It is a real thing - the entire globe is COVID fatigued.”

The governor also vowed that the state will continue to move slowly and prudently with any reopening of public schools after the Labor Day holiday. She said the next two weeks offer an opportunity to see what happens in other school districts around the country.

Also Thursday, Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart took questions from students in a video conference organized by the state chapter of the National Education Association teacher’s union.

Stewart told one fourth-grader named Monica Brycelea, whose game is tag, that “this is going to be a year where we get to invent some new games where we try to stay a little bit further away from each other.”

Brycelea, of Santa Fe, the daughter of an NEA staff member, also asked what would happen if someone got sick at her school.

A COVID-19 case at a school in Deming last month resulted in a 72-hour closure. Stewart said that such shutdowns would happen on a case-by-case basis.

“It may be that we have to close the school, clean everything down, (and) make sure that we’ve gotten the virus off of all the surfaces before people come back,” he said.

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