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Guard may help staffing shortages at New Mexico schools

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she has plans to tap the National Guard to ensure that students can remain in the classroom amid school staffing shortages, during a news conference in Albuquerque on Thursday. She vowed to release more details soon, saying she believes the plan is the first of its kind in the nation. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico’s governor said Thursday she’s considering seeking help from the National Guard to address COVID-19 staffing shortages at public schools, a move that could mark a first in the nation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the additional help would ensure that students can remain in the classroom.

She said the state has been in discussions with the Santa Fe School District, which was forced to plan for remote learning next week.

The National Guard has been used in other ways during the pandemic, including driving school buses.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages because of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Lujan Grisham confirmed that one of the teams will be stationed at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

She said the additional resources will “absolutely help“ given that the hospital is the state’s only top level trauma facility and often takes in many of the most complicated cases.

“With a Level 1 trauma, you’ve got to stabilize personnel resources there,“ Lujan Grisham said, noting that the hospital already has brought in hundreds of traveling nurses to help address the shortage.

New Mexico hospital officials have acknowledged over recent weeks that the majority of patients being seen are treated for illnesses and medical emergencies unrelated to COVID-19 but that a lack of staffing continues to put undue pressure on the state’s health care system, like elsewhere.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.