More people in New Mexico could get assistance for childcare costs, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a press conference Thursday.
During the press conference livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver offered assurance that voting for November’s general election will be safe and secure, and Lujan Grisham also reported schools that have been allowed to conduct hybrid classes have seen success in managing exposure to the coronavirus.
Expanding child care access is critical for New Mexico workers, Lujan Grisham said.
People who are searching for a job, teleworking, studying online or enrolled in a graduate or post-graduate program now qualify for child care assistance, Lujan Grisham said.
The assistance is income-based, Lujan Grisham said, and will either waive or reduce a family’s co-pay for child care.
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Income eligibility for the assistance is for those earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four would be $52,400 annually.
“With all of our challenges, I’d love to have better federal opportunities, but we’re going to keep working to provide more child care access to New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham said.
People can check their eligibility for assistance and enroll by going to www.nmececd.org and clicking on “Am I Eligible?” on the top menu.
Toulouse Oliver said in August, New Mexico voter registration surged past 1.3 million voters and as of Thursday — 40 days before the general election — 247,725 people had applied to receive an absentee ballot.
“We are already seeing great enthusiasm among New Mexico voters,” Toulouse Oliver said.
Toulouse Oliver highlighted important dates regarding the general election. Oct. 20 is the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot, and ballots will be sent out starting Oct. 6. Those voting by mail should send their ballots in by Oct. 27 to give the U.S. Postal Service time to deliver the ballots by the deadline of midnight on Election Day.
She also said voting in person, whether through early voting or on Election Day, will be safe.
“You should feel safe if you choose to vote in person. Poll officials will continually be wiping down surfaces and enforcing social distancing,” Toulouse Oliver said.
The most important thing voters can do right now, she said, is to check their voter registration information.
“I encourage all New Mexico voters, just check your voter registration. Make sure it’s correct. Make sure it is correct and update your voter registration information as necessary,” she said.
Voters can check their information at www.nmvote.org.
Toulouse Oliver also outlined what the public can expect about election returns. Vote counting beyond Election Day is normal, she said. County clerks will review provisional ballots and count hand-tallied ballots afterward, and a close race could trigger an automatic recount.
In addition, a law passed during June’s special session of the Legislature mandates election workers are to stop counting ballots at 11 p.m. on Election Day if they have not finished.
“It’s being implemented to prevent the fatigue of election workers,” she said. “Fatigue leads to errors and mistakes, which leads to inaccuracies.”
Counting would continue the next morning.
Daily COVID-19 update
In the state’s gating criteria and daily update, Lujan Grisham said the state is still doing well, but numbers are starting to trend in the wrong direction.
The New Mexico Department of Health reported 239 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including 16 in Chaves County. Bernalillo County had the state’s highest number of new cases at 58.
Doña Ana County reported 29, Eddy County had 23, Lea County had 16, San Juan County had 15, Curry County had 11 and Santa Fe County had 10. Thirteen other counties reported fewer than 10 new cases each, and the Otero County Prison Facility reported one.
That brings the statewide total to 28,224 and the county total to 1,082.
Two deaths were also reported Thursday — a woman in her 80s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in Bernalillo County and a woman in her 90s from Cibola County. She had been hospitalized and had underlying health conditions.
The state’s total number of deaths related to COVID-19 is now 859.
In the most recent assessments of the state’s gating criteria — the numbers the state tracks to determine when it can move into the next phase of reopening — the state had hit six of the eight targets.
The 10-day rolling average for the state’s rate of transmission, or how many people one person with COVID-19 infects — increased to 1.09 as of Sept. 22. The target for that criterion is 1.05 or less.
The state was actually above the seven-day rolling average target of 5,000 tests per day on Sept. 22, but Lujan Grisham said it was flagged as missed because she would like to see 7,000 tests per day.
The seven-day average of new daily cases on Sept. 17 was 110, well below the target of 168, and the test positivity rate statewide was 2.13% on Sept. 22, also below its target of 5%.
The state’s rapid responses to businesses or organizations reporting personnel with COVID-19 had increased by about 100 the week of Sept. 14 to 20 after peaking in mid-August.
The biggest increases were in Bernalillo, Sandoval and Doña Ana counties by 250%, 133% and 100%, respectively.
Rapid response to restaurants had increased from the previous week from seven cases to 24 and retail and wholesale locations were up from 19 to 40.
“These are indicators that we are heading in the wrong direction,” Lujan Grisham said.
“We have the power ourselves to change that trajectory as quickly as possible,” she said, reminding the public to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.
She also complimented the state’s businesses for reminding patrons to follow the health orders.
“Please help your businesses and your New Mexico small businesses in particular. They need your help to make sure we’re as COVID-safe as possible,” she said.
Schools provided some good news in Lujan Grisham’s press conference. Among the 65 schools that were allowed to open for hybrid learning after Labor Day, there have been 71 positive cases of COVID-19. Thirty-four of them were students and 37 were staff members.
Just over half the cases were among students who were engaged in remote learning.
“That means that it’s not happening because kiddos and educators are coming back to school,” Lujan Grisham said.
As she did in her Sept. 18 press conference, the governor encouraged more people to get tested for COVID-19.
“We are diligently chasing supplies, and while every week is a challenge, we have sufficient supplies to do 7,000 to 7,500 tests a week most weeks. We aren’t getting those tests out,” she said.
Everyone in New Mexico can be tested at no cost, Lujan Grisham said, but encouraged those feeling any symptoms associated with COVID-19 to do so. She also said anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or who has been out in public more than usual should be tested.
She said the state will be pushing more testing in counties that have positivity rates of more than 5%, particularly in southeast New Mexico where four counties — including Chaves County — have a high percentage.
Chaves County’s two-week average positivity rate is 8.6%, the highest in the state.
“We must have more people showing up and we’re going to keep increasing testing opportunities in those higher positivity rate counties,” Lujan Grisham said.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.