SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – All New Mexico public schools will start the 2020-21 school year with kids at home distance learning through Labor Day. That order came from New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday in the governor’s first news conference about COVID-19 in nearly two weeks.
The latest change to the state’s school schedule comes as the state reported a record 343 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. The state says data also shows a surge in new COVID cases in kids ages 10 to 19 years old.
“When we started the pandemic, you all remember, a lot of older people had the disease, (older people) predominantly were the cases we were seeing,” said Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Human Services. “Now, if you look over time, children over the entire course of the pandemic– and by children, I mean 0 to 19 years of age– (they) are 14.9 percent of cases, but in the last week we’re now up to 22 percent.”
The state says the delay to the start of in-person learning comes as more than 40% of school districts across New Mexico had already planned on doing so. In the metro-area, both Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public Schools already determined they would start the school year with distance-online learning before the state’s decision. While in-person learning is delayed, the state’s public schools are still expected to begin their school years through distance learning on districts’ normal, set dates.
Democratic Gov. Lujan Grisham highlighted Thursday her concerns with in-person learning restarting too early. The governor says many teachers are concerned about bringing COVID to school or taking it home to their families. She also raised the notion of how many kids in New Mexico are being raised by their grandparents.
“New Mexico has one of the highest rates in the country, per capita, if not the highest rate, I didn’t check that data point before this press conference, but we’re high, per capita, of grandparents raising their grandchildren,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “This means that a student takes COVID home could lose both their parents to this vicious infection.”
The governor did say in another month, she would consider letting schools and districts in different regions of the state to set their own school reopening plans, depending on local case rates. Until at least after Labor Day, all students are expected to learn from home.
The state is also considering a phased approach to students coming back to school for in-person learning after Labor Day. If that took place, the governor says it would likely start with youngest kids in elementary schools going back to class first, followed by middle and high school students.
“The youngest students have the most difficult time getting the most out of distance learning, they have the most risk of falling behind,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “So we have a hard time getting them caught up.”
Aside from delaying the start of in-person learning Thursday, the governor set no new criteria or policies for reopening any other sectors of New Mexico, including any other businesses or in-person dining. The governor emphasized the need for increasing the use of face coverings, showing a photo of a local restaurant in Hobbs that was still allowing for indoor dining. While declining to name the restaurant, the governor says the state has taken enforcement action against the restaurant, where a photo showed a group of at least seven people dining indoors.
KRQE News 13 asked what seven or 14-day new case average the state would like to see in order for indoor dining to be reopened. The state declined to provide a specific number.
“We’re going to be doing this for a while,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said following a discussion about state testing efforts. “And we know that this pandemic, no matter what the White House says, it doesn’t disappear in the summer, it doesn’t get easier to deal with without a vaccine.”
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley also reminded New Mexicans Thursday that unemployment benefits will change next week, as the Federal Government has not renewed the extra $600 boost per unemployment paycheck. Since March 15, Workforce Solutions says the state has paid New Mexicans more than $1.4-billion in unemployment benefits.