New Mexico vows to defend school funding amid virus plans

Education

FILE – In this April 15, 2020 file photo New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state Capitol during a news conference in Santa Fe, N.M. The leader of one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S. called Wednesday, June 23, 2020, on Lujan Grisham to end efforts to fight a court ruling that orders improvements in education for members of his tribe and other vulnerable groups. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool,File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushed back Thursday against threats by President Donald Trump to withhold federal funds if public schools don’t fully resume classroom studies under pending federal health guidelines.

“The president’s threats will not change our science- and data-driven approach to fighting this pandemic,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a tweet Thursday. “New Mexico will do everything in its power to maintain critical funding for education and keep students, families, educators and school staff safe.”

The state Public Education Department has issued guidance that requires schools to start the year in a hybrid learning model with in-person attendance limited to half the normal classroom capacity, billing the plan as “a prudent and responsible process.”

New Mexico health officials are issuing dire health warnings to residents amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in early July. Lujan Grisham is calling the situation untenable and warned against complacency.

The state on Wednesday announced eight coronavirus-related deaths and 290 newly reported cases — the state’s second-highest daily infection tally. A briefing by the governor and health officials was scheduled on Thursday afternoon.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

New Mexico health officials are striving to insulate the state from aggressive virus outbreaks in Arizona and Texas. In anticipation of the Independence Day weekend, Lujan Grisham amended an executive order to require a 14-day self-quarantine for visitors to the state or residents returning from out-of-state travel.

Individuals who don’t comply with the order run the risk of an involuntary quarantine by health officials, but it is unclear whether the provision is being actively enforced. Lujan Grisham also has encouraged local law enforcement agencies to distribute $100 citations to people who deliberately flout the state’s longstanding mask requirement in public places.

New Mexico still has a ban on public gatherings of more than five people and a stay-at-home order in place that discourages nonessential trips outside the home. Bars remain closed but businesses including restaurants, brewpubs, and hair salons have been allowed to open at reduced capacity.

Further steps to reopen the economy have been put on hold through at least July 14, and the governor has warned that some prior restrictions could be reinstated. New Mexico’s seven-day average rate for positive tests has crept upward to 3.9%, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. Arizona led all states with a roughly 27% rate.

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