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New coronavirus hits New Mexico, visiting actor

March 16, 2020 GMT
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In this photo taken Friday, March 13, 2020, medical personnel test patients at a mobile site for coronavirus across the street from Lovelace Hospital near the freeway in Albuquerque, N.M. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
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In this photo taken Friday, March 13, 2020, medical personnel test patients at a mobile site for coronavirus across the street from Lovelace Hospital near the freeway in Albuquerque, N.M. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s governor urged the Trump administration on Monday to help the state expand testing capacity for the new coronavirus as a positive test result by recently visiting British film star Idris Elba spurred a business closure.

Elba’s announcement on social media that he had tested positive and gone into isolation triggered the self-suspension of business at a popular musical instrument supply store in Santa Fe where the actor last week had shopped and posed briefly with staff for pictures. Elba was scheduled to participate in the production in New Mexico of a western-themed movie.

Randy Cook, co-owner of The Candyman Strings & Things, said the store weeks ago started a rigorous, hourly cleaning and canceled weekend gatherings including a ukulele club after the first infections appeared within the state — but it wasn’t enough.

“We have done absolutely everything we could, and when this is all over with we are going to need people’s support in getting this thing back up and running,” Cook said. “Everyone that works for us is self-quarantined until they get tested.”

The actor’s infection also held implications for a vibrant film industry that the state has nurtured with more than $100 million in tax rebate payouts over the past year. Economic development officials confirmed Monday that Netflix and NBCUniversal Studios, which both have operations in Albuquerque, have paused work on productions for two weeks.

“We know that the film industry is poised to be one of the hardest hit from the COVID-19 emergency, as their work is project-dependent,” Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said, adding that the top concern is the health and safety of entertainment industry workers and of all residents.

The administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham moved Monday to harden social-distancing recommendations and requirements by restricting restaurant service to 50% of seating capacity with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) buffer between tables and no service at bar fronts. More than 100 state buildings including a world renowned museum system were closed off to the public as state workers make the transition to working from home.

For most people, the virus 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, and death.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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Lujan Grisham was among the governors who participated Monday in a teleconference with President Donald Trump. Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said that New Mexico health officials have been seeking federal help to secure additional testing equipment and crucial processing chemicals, and that states are being compelled to compete for supplies without prioritization from the federal government.

State health officials say they received assurances of change in a follow-up call with the vice president’s office.

“There is an inability on the feds’ part right now to create a statewide system where we’re all working together,” Stelnicki said. “It should not be states competing against other states.”

Health officials on Monday reiterated their calls for residents to either limit their contact with other people or stay home, calling social distancing the best strategy for reducing risk. State parks were closed and state prisons and county jails shut off contact visits with inmates as many businesses limited their hours.

As of Monday afternoon, state health officials announced three new positive tests for COVID-19, including two men and a woman, ranging in age from their 20s to 80s — all from Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque.

In all, 21 people have tested positive after 1,270 tests.

The governor issued five executive orders, authorizing more than $3 million of additional funding for emergency response and disaster relief efforts related to the public health emergency she declared last week. Officials said the funding will be used to assist in humanitarian relief, public health measures and to help families and children affected by the school closures.

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Susan Montoya Bryan and Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed to this report.