- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico is woefully short of professionals devoted to contact tracing that can alert people who are exposed unknowingly to the coronavirus, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.

The state needs at least 670 people for telephone debriefings to effectively trace contacts involving infections, she said.

“We’re at about 100-110 people, and it’s not enough,” she said.

The comments came Wednesday, nearly a month after the state embarked on a related pilot program with the federal government and at least two other states. Little has been said publicly about the program since then.

For most people, the 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.

The Democratic governor said the state is contracting with a company named Accenture to improve its capabilities for tracing possible exposure to COVID-19 as the state prepares to lighten restrictions on many nonessential businesses.

Tight restrictions will remain in place in the northwest, where the virus is taking a heavy toll across the Navajo Nation and adjoining communities such as Gallup.

Manual contact tracing is described as a labor-intensive process.

“These are individuals who call individuals who are positive and then begin to get the history of their families,” Lujan Grisham said. “They’ve been trying to figure out their source of getting the virus and then making sure they get to everybody else. It is incredibly time-intensive.”

New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced Thursday that the state is in line for more than $77 million from the federal government for testing and contact tracings. The funds are part of the relief package passed by Congress in April.

The state has confirmed 242 deaths and more than 5,500 infections statewide, while health officials estimate that current infections are likely much higher because many people have not been tested. The latest numbers show more than one-third of the new cases and more than half of the 11 deaths reported Thursday were from McKinley County.

The state continues to ramp up testing, with total tests now exceeding 119,000 in the state with 2.1 million residents.

Testing was offered this week to the state’s entire public and private workforce for any reason, Officials are encouraging multiple tests for people who fear exposure or sense symptoms.

New Mexico on Thursday also unveiled a new map that shows workplaces that have been investigated on COVID-19-related matters by the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau. It includes information about the business, complaints received by the state and responses received from the business during the investigation.

From March 6 to May 8, the bureau received over 200 complaints - twice the number normally received in a two-month period. Complaints range from access to proper personal protective equipment to alleged violations of the state’s emergency public health orders.

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