New Mexico governor touts virus progress, draws criticism

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been touting her administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying expansive lockdowns helped to keep COVID-19 at bay and that spread rates and new infections are trending downward.

But critics have accused the first-term Democratic governor of ignoring her own policies by hosting in-person meetings with members of her cabinet last year and spending thousands of dollars on groceries while joblessness remains high and businesses have yet to recover from a year of navigating some of the toughest restrictions in the U.S.

The Republican Governors Association on Monday launched a week of digital ads targeting the governor. Top Republicans in New Mexico and commerce groups also have voiced concerns over the past year, saying the policies have forced many small businesses to close for good.

Lujan Grisham has repeatedly defended her public health order and acknowledged that spending on goods and services such as dry cleaning, tuna steaks, tequila and Wagyu beef over a six-month period in 2020 didn’t look good.

The governor was scheduled Tuesday to talk about her policies and the pandemic during an online forum.

Spread rates and the weekly rolling average of new COVID-19 infections have declined in New Mexico in recent weeks. The additional confirmed cases reported by state health officials Monday marked one of the lowest levels since September.

The statewide death toll has surpassed 3,700, but officials say the fatality rate has been decreasing.

State officials during their most recent public briefing said vaccinations are playing a role in bringing the numbers down but that the restrictions mandated by the public health order – including mask-wearing and limits on gatherings – were still doing more to keep spread down.

The New Mexico Health Department also has been working on ways to get vaccinations to the most vulnerable communities. They expect those efforts to ramp up with the arrival this week of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine. The shipment of more than 17,000 doses will mark a 30% increase in the state’s weekly allocation.

While the state has yet to release details on how it will distribute the new vaccines, officials said last week they were planning to roll out mobile clinics and get more health care providers involved.

Data from the state shows more than 670,000 have registered to receive shots, while about 212,000 people have been fully vaccinated.

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