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New Mexico governor confirms first coronavirus infections

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Three people in New Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state’s first known cases of infection, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday.

She said a husband and wife in their 60s at Socorro County tested positive, along with a woman in her 70s in the Albuquerque area.

The infected couple recently traveled to Egypt, and the older woman in Bernalillo County recently returned from a trip to New York City. All three were isolated at their homes to guard against transmission of the virus.

Lujan Grisham, a former state Health Department secretary, said her administration has been preparing for weeks for the arrival of the coronavirus and reiterated the importance of washing hands and cleaning indoor surfaces that can be touched.

The Health Department has emphasized concerns about the elderly and plans to deploy public health nurses this week to assisted care facilities for the elderly to look for evidence of the new coronavirus and ensure adequate precautions. About one-fifth of the population is over 65 in a state of 2.1 million.

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For most people, the new coronavirus causes only 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. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. More than 61,000 have recovered.

In Albuquerque, one of the nation’s largest school districts suspended all district-sponsored out-of-state staff and student travel in an effort to protect the school community from what they called unnecessary risk. Santa Fe’s public school district in the state capital is taking similar precautions.

New Mexico is in the process of trying to expand testing availability to all people with signs of respiratory infection who test negative for influenza, regardless of travel history or contact with confirmed cases.

The state has provided no-cost testing to select groups based on travel and prior negative tests that rule out influenza. At least one major insurance carrier has waived co-payments for customers.

Governors across the country were scrambling Wednesday to slow the spread of the coronavirus as leaders stepped up bans on large public gatherings and the list grew of universities moved classes online, as the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert Wednesday warned that the worst is yet to come.

The University of New Mexico has canceled university-related travel to areas in the U.S. where a state of emergency has been declared and to foreign countries flagged by the CDC.

Economic concerns related to COVID-19 have prompted the governor to veto hundreds of local transportation projects in response to plunging oil prices. At least one-third of the state budget is linked to the oil and natural gas sector.