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ARTESIA — In response to both Eddy County’s uptick in positive cases of COVID-19 and alarming comments on social media suggesting that residents of Artesia and the county stop testing for COVID in order to bring the county’s positive case totals down, local officials and health care professionals are rushing to urge citizens to do their part to slow the recent spread.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, along with state health and education officials, gave a press conference Thursday, during which Eddy County and much of Southeast New Mexico were shown to be the state’s current “hot spots” in terms of virus spread. Just since Monday, Eddy County has had 49 new cases of COVID-19, with the county logging 24 — its highest number since the start of the pandemic — on Wednesday alone.

While counties now experiencing significant community spread and an uptick in hospitalizations were not excluded from the amended public health order allowing for limited indoor dining and expanded outdoor dining and church attendance, it was noted that only counties in the “green” in terms of virus spread would move to the state’s hybrid learning model for public schools after Labor Day.

Many residents took to social media Thursday to plead with their fellow citizens to observe health guidelines in order to protect the community and help students and businesses move forward; some, however, were seen encouraging others to stop getting tested altogether.

Mayor Raye Miller, Artesia General Hospital, and the Artesia Public Schools have now issued statements urging residents not to put their friends and neighbors at risk by avoiding testing and to observe social-distancing and masking guidelines in order to bring an end to the city’s recent upward trend. The statements can be read in their entirety below:

MAYOR RAYE MILLER

“The Governor has laid out criteria to allow children to return to in-classroom learning. Due to the recent rise in cases in our county, under her criteria, we don’t qualify.

“I believe it is critical for our children to get back into school in a safe and healthy learning environment. To do that, we need to reduce the spread of the virus in our community.

“Many of us, including myself, do not like masks, social distancing, and being isolated at home. If we can get our children back in school by doing these things, then I believe we can all make the sacrifice.

“Please look at everything you are doing each day and try to avoid close contact in groups, wear a mask, and avoid touching. I am thrilled to be back in church, but in those types of environments, we need to avoid close contact to reduce the risk of spread to others.

“I know some are recommending not to get testing, but in talking with our healthcare professionals, that is the wrong direction.

“If you have any of the symptoms, please avoid going to work, church, and any family or group gatherings where you may spread whatever you have. Consider being tested so that you know whether you are positive for COVID-19 or not, for your safety and the safety of others.

“Please join with me to work towards getting our children back to safe in-person learning in our schools. A few more weeks of our sacrifice will be worth it to help to get them back to a better and more successful learning environment.”

ARTESIA GENERAL HOSPITAL

“Positive cases of COVID-19 have sharply increased in Eddy, Chaves and Lea Counties recently, with hospitalizations on the rise as well. It is imperative that residents do their part to protect themselves as well as others.

“The staff at Artesia General Hospital wants to stress the importance of testing if deemed necessary.

“‘Knowing that most people would never deliberately harm those around them, it stands to reason that people spreading COVID-19 are doing so before they know they have it,’ said David McEachern of Artesia General Hospital. ‘Avoiding being tested could endanger those who are at risk.’

“While there are varying degrees to the severity of infection, ranging from asymptomatic to dire, it is important to follow recommended protocol. Wear a mask in public, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick. If a test is recommended, take it. Do your part to keep the community healthy.”

ARTESIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

“The Secretary of Education and Governor announced [Thursday] that Eddy County is currently not meeting the criteria for our students to return to school in the Hybrid mode.

“Although everyone is trying their hardest, remote learning is not best for kids. We need them back in school, and we know you do, too!

“Please follow COVID-safe practices and encourage others to do the same, so we can bring our kids back.”