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New Mexico military school imposes quarantine as cases climb

October 22, 2020 GMT

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — A military junior college in New Mexico is under quarantine after more than 60 cadets and employees tested positive for the coronavirus and were isolating, school officials said.

The quarantine at the New Mexico Military Institute is expected to last until Oct. 29. Parents will be allowed to visit only in special situations or emergencies, and officials said all campus facilities are closed to the public for five weeks.

The closure comes as the state struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Wednesday marked another record day for daily confirmed infections, with 827, and state health officials reported an additional 669 cases Thursday. That brings the statewide total to nearly 39,380 since the pandemic began.

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Overall, the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

With high spread and positivity rates, Human Services Secretary David Scrase said at a briefing Thursday that the trend is expected to continue for the next two to three weeks and that more people will likely be hospitalized. The recent surge has resulted in a nearly 150% increase in hospitalizations since Oct. 1.

“We’re getting back to a place that we haven’t been to since late April, and that was not a good place to be back then,” he said, adding that increased contact between people has been fueling the spike. “We have to fight the virus so stay at home. Seriously, stay at home.”

In Albuquerque, city officials will be conducting an enforcement blitz to ensure residents adhere to the state public health order, which mandates mask wearing and restricts gatherings of more than five people.

At the military school, officials have been updating the status of its COVID-19 cases on a dashboard, which showed Wednesday that two employees and 61 cadets, including 53 still residing on the campus, were considered to have active cases. Some cadets were allowed to quarantine off-post.

Eight employees and 84 cadets have tested positive for COVID-19 since the fall semester began in July, officials said, adding most have not had symptoms.

The quarantine announcement came after all employees and cadets were tested following the discovery of two cadets who tested positive off campus and did not quarantine, the Roswell Daily Record reported.

“Please know that this quarantine is to the benefit of all cadets, staff and faculty at NMMI,” said Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, the school’s president. “We want to end the semester strong — and in person. It is our strong desire to have face-to-face instruction again next semester, and, with the cooperation of the Corps, our families and everyone at NMMI, we trust that this can happen.”

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TriCore Reference Laboratories, one of New Mexico’s main diagnostic labs, has on a small scale started testing a number of samples together to boost capacity, called pool-testing. If the pool is negative, then all the samples are considered negative. If the pool comes up positive, then tests are done on each sample to determine which one was positive.

Officials said the method is most effective when the positivity rate is low. New Mexico’s rate has been increasing along with the surge in cases.