NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Some sporting events have resumed across the country. So what would it take for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to ease restrictions in New Mexico?
During Thursday’s news conference, Gov. Lujan Grisham said the answer to that question gets complicated. But, one of the key factors she pointed to in order to safely play contact sports again would be rapid COVID-19 testing.
“I can tell you we don’t have the bandwidth to provide point-of-care rapid testing to every single youth sports or high school team in the state,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham, during Thursday’s news conference. “No state does, we’re no different.”
The ability to rapidly test players for COVID-19 could be a game-changer for contact sports in the pandemic. But, as Gov. Lujan Grisham explained, resuming play isn’t so simple.
“My goal is to get there,” she said. “It is painful that we have our young people who are talented, and anxious, and exhausted by the restrictions.”
In an effort to expand testing, the federal government recently announced it would deploy 150 million rapid, ‘point of care’ antigen tests across the country, focusing on vulnerable populations.
New Mexico nursing homes recently received the tests, and they’re rolling out guidelines for testing. However, there is a downfall. Health officials say rapid antigen tests aren’t as reliable as the gold standard PCR nasal swab tests for COVID-19.
“Less adequate laboratory test can actually increase spread,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Human Services Secretary, when asked about antigen tests during an August 6 news conference. “So it kind of almost defeats the purpose of contact tracing.”
Though some professional teams and universities are doing rapid testing, the governor also pointed to the need for rigorous isolation for athletes, or ‘bubble life,’ to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“You’ve got to be in a pod, you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything. And they can really hold you accountable, because you’re living at that university, or you’re part of a professional team,” explained Gov. Lujan Grisham. “That’s a much harder environment.”
The governor explained imposing those restrictions on youth athletes would pose obvious challenges. “But I’m hopeful,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “And the better that we do, the less prevalent the virus is, then the safer our high schoolers and mid schoolers are in some of these contact sports.”
“It is our job as New Mexicans to be smart and to use the science to make the next set of decisions,” the governor added.
The Department of Aging and Long-Term Services said they’ll use the rapid, point-of-care tests from the federal government as an additional tool in nursing homes, but not as a replacement for the current process.
The state Department of Health says so far, 30 COVID-related deaths in New Mexico have been people between the ages of 18-30, something else the governor said she’s taking into consideration when it comes to youth sports.