Home News COVID-19 Situation Scrase: State needs to make long-term plans for pandemic

Scrase: State needs to make long-term plans for pandemic

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The state of New Mexico is working to plan for and understand the long-term effects of the pandemic on the fronts of public health and economic recovery.

That was the message given by Acting Secretary of the New Mexico Health Department, Dr. David Scrase, and Acting Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Ricky Serna, in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday.

In response to a question about what changes might be expected when the current public health order requiring indoor masking expires next Friday, Scrase said he didn’t have a preview but instead focused on the need for longer-term solutions to controlling or living with the virus.

“What we really need to figure out is longer-term solutions to manage this pandemic, things we can live with for a year or two or three, rather than flicking on-off switches for the mandate,” he said.

“I’m not sure additional mandates would add all that much when we don’t have New Mexicans following the most scientifically proven, basic, effective thing that every individual should do short of vaccine,” he said.

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Scrase, who predicted early this year the pandemic could be over by the end of September, said the world would be in a different place if it weren’t for the delta variant. That variant has proven to be more than twice as infective as previous strains. He said that shows the virus’s unpredictability and likened it to response to the influenza virus more than 100 years ago. The fact annual shots are still needed against the flu is an example of how we will likely learn to live with the SARS-Co-V-2 virus that causes COVID-19, he said.

Society will have to figure out what it can live with until better control of the virus is obtained, he said.

“I don’t think we can live with remote learning for two years, but maybe we can live with indoor masking. Maybe we can live with more employers requiring vaccination just because they want to be successful employment workplaces and make sure their work environment is safe for everybody,” he said.

“I do think we have a longer road ahead of us, and that’s why we’re trying to rethink in terms of a long-term strategy rather than a day-to-day or week-to-week or month-to-month mandate type of approach,” he said.

Serna spoke of how the Workforce Solutions Department is addressing the long-term changes on the state’s workforce.

“What we’re planning for is conversations, how do we engage sectors of the workforce to really understand the changes that they’ve made and how that’s going to impact their need for workers, how workers need to train and how they’re going to be provided with for opportunities,” he said.

“There was a lot of automation that took place that can reduce the need for certain workers in some industries, there was adaptation that occurred that’s going to change the way workers intersect with customers,” he said.

Serna also talked about the more immediate effects the state and employers are dealing with.

More than 80,000 online job postings in August were for positions in New Mexico, he said, an increase of almost 46% over August 2020 and a 28% increase over five years ago. The majority of the listings — more than 13,000 — are in the health care and social assistance industry.

To address those immediate needs, the department is focusing on certain industries, including the tourism and hospitality industry, and helping make direct referrals of applicants to employers in all fields. The department is also working with other state agencies such as Economic Development and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department to help address the barriers to employment that workers have identified, such as availability of child care or training for new skills, he said.

The department will also be working with communities and specific employers to target assistance more directly, he said.

“For example, we’ll be in Roswell later this month to meet with several employers to talk about what their recruitment and hiring challenges have been, and prior to that we’ll do some marketing so that we can better understand what the workforce pool looks like. After we meet with them, we’ll start having direct hiring events in those communities,” he said.

The Workforce Solutions Department is even conducting applicant screening and initial interviews for some employers, he said.

New Mexicans should not expect a quick economic recovery from the pandemic, however, he said.

Serna said New Mexico typically weathers an economic recession better than other states due to the number of federal jobs and resources, but it does struggle with recovery due to its mix of industries. The 2009 recession took about nine to 10 years to recover from, he said.

“We saw about four or five very strong months before the pandemic hit, so we’ve got some work to do. I think there’s going to be a time period that we’re going to see how the pandemic impacted this economic downturn relative to other recessions,” he said.

In its daily case update, NMDOH reported a total of 838 new cases of COVID-19 in 32 counties and one correctional institution Wednesday, including 29 in Chaves County.

The total number of cases in the state since March 2020 is now 256,947, with 12,209 in Chaves County.

Ten deaths were reported Wednesday — three each in Doña Ana and Eddy counties, and one each in Lea, McKinley, Otero and San Juan counties. Their ages ranged from a man in his 30s from Eddy County to two women in their 80s from Doña Ana and Eddy counties.

The total number of deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19 is 4,840, including 190 in Chaves County.

The average number of cases per day per 100,000 people in Chaves County between Sept. 27 and Oct. 4 was virtually unchanged from the previous two-week period, at 52.6. The test positivity, however, increased from 11.55% to 13.2%.

As of Wednesday, 336 people were hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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