New Mexico National Guard logs 1.6M miles in virus battle

Coronavirus New Mexico

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham talks with National Guardsmen after receiving her Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination event held in the gym at Desert Sage Academy in Santa Fe, N.M. Friday March 26, 2021. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico National Guard and Civil Air Patrol have logged more than 1.6 million miles over the past year as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and officials say the work is not over as they try to get more people vaccinated.

New Mexico on Monday made all residents 16 and older eligible for the vaccine as states look to expand distribution beyond health care workers and other priority groups to meet an April 19 deadline from the Biden administration. About 30% of New Mexico’s eligible population already is fully vaccinated, and nearly half of the population has received a first shot, according to the latest state data.

Guard soldiers have been operating a vaccine distribution center in southeast Albuquerque, which U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich toured Tuesday. The effort will benefit from funding included in the federal government’s most recent pandemic relief package, specifically $20 billion that the New Mexico Democrat says will supercharge vaccine distributions nationwide.

The recovery package also included $50 billion for testing, genomic sequencing of variants and contact tracing.

New Mexico also will get nearly $7 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That’s on top of nearly $21 million previously awarded to the state Department of Health. The extra money is the result of the U.S. government waiving all cost-sharing requirements related to the federal disaster declaration that was issued last year.

Heinrich and fellow U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan announced the additional funding Wednesday, noting that many communities have taken on unprecedented costs to ensure public health and safety. “FEMA’s cost-share requirements had kept New Mexico’s state, local and tribal governments from receiving the full, federal support they needed,” Heinrich said.

The New Mexico National Guard has completed more than 1,230 missions amid the pandemic. That includes setting up and helping staff more than 200 drive-thru testing sites around the state, collecting over 300,000 specimens, vaccinating more than 35,000 people and delivering tons of food, water and protective gear to communities.

Over 1,020 Guard soldiers and air personnel have been involved in pandemic-related missions since March 2020, officials said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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