The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Q&A: Lt. Gov. Howie Morales talks COVID-19 mitigation


May 13, 2020

CLOVIS — Lt. Gov. Howie Morales spoke to The News on Monday regarding the state’s continued mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview with Morales, edited for brevity and clarity, follows:

Q: The governor’s office over the last few days has allowed veterinary offices to reopen and dental offices to provide non-emergency services. What data do you need to see for further relaxation of restrictions?

A: I think we want to continue to see the flattening of the curve. We want to have enough tests to show us what’s going on in New Mexico and make sure there’s not a second wave. We know not all areas in the state are the same. We recognize that, but we want to make sure we keep New Mexicans safe by responsibly opening up.

Q: Is there anything concrete you can tell me about what the state will allow to reopen Friday when the public health orders are set to expire?

A: Nothing we know for sure.

Q: What type of places should New Mexicans not count on opening at the beginning?

A: I know there have been a lot of questions about nail or hair salons. But in California, that is where a lot of the spread was traced. Right now, there’s no guarantee there are places that will not be open, but we’ll look at things that will possibly have an impact on spreading the virus.

Q: In other states, workers who don’t feel safe coming back to their workplaces yet are being classified as voluntary resignations and ineligible for unemployment benefits. Will this be the standard in New Mexico?

A: Secretary (of Workforce Solutions Bill) McCamley has addressed that. When places open up, there has to be a justification from that employee as to why they feel unsafe to return. Then there’s a responsibility on the employer to make sure there are safe conditions.

Q: What has the impact been of the governor’s council, of which Clovis Mayor Mike Morris is a member?

A: It’s been so beneficial. They’ve been able to provide information on what’s going on across the state. We need to recognize parts of the state are different. I’m glad the mayor has devoted his time to that.

Q: Is there a possibility of different reopening timelines for counties with less population density and less infection spread?

A: That’s the No. 1 question I get in every interview. We continue to monitor that, and we’re open to all possibilities. But we want to make sure whatever we do is done in a safe way. People may have to travel county to county.

Q: People who travel from other states have been asked to quarantine. Is there any chance those requests get made of people who visit counties with high infection rates?

A: I think those are possibilities, discussions we have had. Just yesterday, we lifted a lockdown order in McKinley County. We want to make sure people can stay as much in their home communities and socially distance at all times.

Q: What impact are the phone and letter campaigns having on the governor’s office regarding policy over these last few weeks?

A: I’m always grateful and thankful to hear from people. They have a voice and they should be able to express that. When they’ve done that, that’s been helpful. I do get concerns when I see the rise of rallies that bring people together. Often, we’re gathering people together without social distancing or face coverings.

Q: Readers have repeatedly asked for more specific numbers on recoveries, since our local numbers on positive tests didn’t grow by much over the first few weeks. But I’ve been told by both the governor’s office and the Department of Health they don’t have county breakdowns of recovered cases. Why can’t the public access that information?

A: I know on our daily announcements we do the daily overall recovery numbers, but when you look at privacy and HIPPA laws that may come into effect, this is something they have never experienced. As we continue to fine-tune our dashboard, we are trying to find ways to keep our patient privacy of the utmost importance.

Q: Why is it OK under privacy laws to give a gender, approximate age and county of residence for somebody who has contracted a virus, but we can’t provide any information when that same person has recovered?

A: In the case of a location with a small population, (specifying a recovery) can identify who that person was. There might be some different circumstances dealing in population.

Q: Do we have any more concrete details about a special session of the Legislature in June?

A: We’re looking at mid-June to late June, and I think that timeline is safe. When we go into the special session, we are going to focus on the budget and we want to focus on all the data. We don’t know the full impact of gross receipts. We don’t know what stimulus programs will be available. We need to see what other areas (exist where) the state may need to provide assistance or receive assistance from the federal side.

— Compiled by Editor Kevin Wilson


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