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Analysts say economics are missing from pandemic planning

October 3, 2020 GMT
A maintenance worker power-washes the state seal at an entrance of the capitol building on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The building has been closed to the public since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative meetings and gubernatorial addresses are broadcast online. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A maintenance worker power-washes the state seal at an entrance of the capitol building on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The building has been closed to the public since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative meetings and gubernatorial addresses are broadcast online. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico authorities are risking a public backlash and missed opportunities by not conducting a more thorough economic analysis of pandemic-related health restrictions, state and independent analysists told a panel of legislators Friday.

Jim Peach, an economist and professor emeritus at New Mexico State University, said a readily available economic analysis of the state’s public health order “could go a long way toward reducing criticism of the restrictions that are necessarily in place. I really believe that.”

He pointed out that a roughly 20-member economic recovery advisory council to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would benefit from including an economist, while noting he’s not looking to be hired.

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Staff at the budget and accountability office of the Legislature said the state should consider incorporating more economic indicators into its pandemic policy decisions and build an economic dashboard to better track progress of economic recovery. They highlighted resources such as the tracktheeconomy.org website, assembled by Harvard and Brown universities.

“To recover we have to defeat or significantly contain this virus because of consumer confidence,” said Charles Sallee, staff deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee. “There are no stay-at-home orders anymore but people are still staying home at a greater rate.”

He said New Mexico has taken a “one-two punch” from the Pandemic with the added blow of a collapse of oilfield production and employment.

Several state legislators criticized the decision to hold advisory board meetings on economic recovery and medical matters in private out of the public eye. Human Services Secretary David Scrase acknowledged that state medical advisory team meetings on the pandemic are held in private because of sensitive, legally protected information.

The state’s 11.3% August unemployment rate exceeds the national rate of 8.4%.

The administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is taking a cautious approach to lifting health restrictions and reopening the economy in an attempt to avoid new surges in infections.

New Mexico limits businesses, including retail outlets, private schools and indoor restaurant areas, to 25% of capacity, while hotels and lodges can seek certification for 75% occupancy. Masks are mandatory in public, with a 10-person limit on public gatherings and a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for travelers entering from high-infection rate states that include all five neighboring states.

Peach said the state economy is unlikely to rebound to pre-pandemic activity until 2025 and will never be quite the same.

“It’s going to look very, very different,” he said. “We’ll have a higher concentration of economic activity in the hands of larger corporations.”

The number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide surged upward to 341 on Friday, with five related deaths that bring total fatalities from the pandemic to 887.

State education officials reported five new coronavirus cases Friday at schools, including a student in Dona Ana County.

In other developments:

— The Navajo Nation, which sprawls across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, reported 32 new coronavirus cases and two new virus-related deaths Friday. The huge reservation has had 558 virus-related deaths and 10,404 cases.