SANTA FE, New Mexico -- New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday said coronavirus spread in neighboring El Paso "poses a great risk to Dona Ana County and the entire state of New Mexico."
She cited both the El Paso area's rising toll of deaths (54) and cases (1,930), including a recent 39% increase in hospitalizations. She compared El Paso's population base to that metro Albuquerque, by far New Mexico's most populous area, in outlining the potential risk.
There were just four new virus cases reported in Doña Ana County on Wednesday, putting the infection total there at 322. To date, there have been just two deaths.
State officials noted that "spread in the southwest (part of the state) appears to be under reasonable control," which is why the governor expressed concern about the threat posed if El Paso's surge expands into Doña Ana County.
Health leaders said traveling from one location to another and not following social distancing guidelines can quickly result in spread.
"Covid got here from people traveling, we know this creates high risk," Lujan Grisham explained. "If you're shopping or going to a movie theater in El Paso. you're posing a risk in New Mexico."
Across all of New Mexico, the governor said there were seven additional virus-related deaths in the state on Wednesday, with the total number of deaths of New Mexicans now 283.
In addition to the deaths, the state reported 144 new cases. As of Wednesday, New Mexico reported at total of 6,317 infections.
The governor reported that 206 people were hospitalized, with 58 of those patients on ventilators. She said that's a bit higher than the national average.
Some of the key data, however, has Lujan Grisham saying the state is managing the virus correctly.
The state has conducted 147,344 virus tests as of Wednesday, which means about 7% of all New Mexicans have been tested. It sounds low but in comparison to other states, it is one of the highest rates in the nation.
In other southwestern U.S. states, Texas has tested just 2% of its population, Arizona 3% and Oklahoma 4%.
Also, fewer people who get tested in the Land of Enchantment have the virus - it's only about 4%.
At the same time, the state is moving slower than most at reopening.
“We are not yet seeing New Mexico cases decline,” Lujan Grisham said. “In fact, states that have reopened quickly haven't done it as thoughtfully as maybe we believe in New Mexico and they are already seeing those spikes.”
Republicans in the state senate called for the governor to reopen everything by Thursday. In a letter to the governor, they claimed that the virus has not risen to the levels initially thought by many experts and leaders both nationally and statewide.
The governor, though, rejected that idea and has laid out a multi-phase plan that will last till August slowly opening businesses and service. Phase two of reopening businesses in New Mexico is expected to happen in early June, which will include restaurants at 50% capacity to ensure social distancing practices.
Lujan Grisham on Wednesday did call a special session of the New Mexico Legislature, which she said would be held June 18 to deal with a "looming deficit" to the state's budget as a result of the pandemic's "economic crisis."
She estimated up to a $2.4 billion gap in fiscal year 2021, but noted that she believed half of it could be addressed with stimulus money from the federal government and the rest through cuts to capital projects. The governor expressed optimism that employee furloughs and cuts to daily state operations could be avoided.
"I don't anticipate that we're going to have to make deep cuts, but we will have to slow spending," Lujan Grisham said in response to a reporter's question.
(ABC affiliate KOAT contributed to this report.)