Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushed back New Mexico’s in person, in classroom instruction to Sept. 7 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.
New Mexico saw it’s highest recorded daily number of cases Thursday (July 23) with 343 new cases. The surge in cases, along with concerns expressed by teachers over the safety of returning to the classroom during the pandemic, in part prompted the governor to delay in-person learning all public and charter schools and universities. The regulations do not apply to private schools.
“This does not mean things are not happening in our school systems,” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor said schools across the state must provide online learning options for students until the target September start date. Online efforts will continue into the soft opening of schools and schools may not disenroll students who choose to continue with the online option only.
Online education can start in August, but how that is handled is up to each school district, according to the governor.
Taos Municipals Schools has already announced it will start classes online Aug. 13 and some in-person classroom instruction on Sept. 8. This could change depending on state restrictions and what happens with the efforts to control the coronavirus.
Students with special needs can meet in schools before September in small groups or on a one on one basis, according to the governor.
The first group Lujan Grisham hopes to have in schools is the Kindergarten through fifth grade students.
“The youngest students have the most difficult time getting the most out of distance learning,” Lujan Grisham said during a press conference. “They have the most risk for falling so far behind we can’t get them caught up.”
Lujan Grisham said 80 percent of New Mexico educators surveyed by the state feel unsafe returning back to work.
State officials also discussed unemployment benefits during the pandemic as federal funds are set to end August 1.
New Mexico Secretary of Workforce Solution Bill McCamley said the state unemployment funds would continue despite what the federal government decides.
McCamley said there would be a gap in federal payments for the first week of August.
At issue is the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits per worker that is set to end at the end of July. Congress is working with the Trump Administration on a bill to extend additional federal aide to unemployed workers.
According to McCamley, 135,000 New Mexicans are currently receiving unemployment benefits.
Chiding law enforcement
Lujan Grisham expressed frustration with law enforcement officers, particularly some county sheriffs though she didn't name any, who aren't enforcing the mask requirements and sometimes aren't following the rules themselves.
She said some sheriffs recently posted photos on Facebook of themselves eating inside restaurants. Indoor dining has been banned since early July under the state's public health order.
She warned they risk civil and criminal penalties if they continue to flout the restrictions.
New Mexico’s highest recorded day of cases brings the state’s total to 18,163 total positive cases. 596 deaths involving COVID-19 have been reported.
Taos County reported seven new cases Thursday, bringing the county's total to 81, more than half of which have occurred since June 30. The majority of Taos County's cases are among people ages 20-39.
As of Thursday, 7,056 cases in the state have been designated as recovered from the virus.