- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico grocery stores and other essential businesses could avoid mandatory closures triggered by COVID-19 surges among employees if they agree to regularly test their workers and help with the state’s contact tracing efforts.

The state health and environment departments announced the voluntary program Tuesday. A business would have to submit a plan that details surveillance testing and contact tracing efforts for each of its locations.

If positive cases are discovered as a result of the testing, the resulting rapid response by the state will not count toward the mandatory 14-day closure requirement in the current public health order. The program also clears a path for businesses currently closed to be allowed to reopen before the 14-day period is over.

“Proactive testing is an essential tool in combating the spread of this virus,” acting Health Secretary Billy Jimenez said. “Partners in the private sector through these agreements will make a significant and positive impact in curbing COVID-19 in New Mexico.”

State officials already have acknowledged that the current rate of testing would have to more than double to effectively identify and track infections. The state currently is averaging close to 12,000 tests a day as laboratories are working around the clock to keep up with demand and volunteers are being sought to help with the effort.

New Mexico on Tuesday reported an additional 2,107 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to nearly 86,500 since the pandemic began. Another 28 deaths also were reported and more than 870 people were hospitalized.

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