Citing continued spread of COVID-19 statewide and indications that people are not complying with infection prevention guidelines, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will now require all restaurant employees and all essential workers in large retail stores to wear face masks.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference live-streamed on social media, she discussed two new face mask rules, incentive pay for early childhood care workers and, in response to a reporter’s question, indicated that she will be extending the current “stay-at-home” orders past May 15 unless statewide data shows improvement in disease containment.
Disparities continue to exist in different sections of the state, with infection rates and case doubling rates in northwest counties farthest from containment goals.
Southeast New Mexico has an infection rate of 1.16 spread rate, when the goal is 1.15. Dr. David Scrase, Human Services Secretary, described the numbers as representing the average number of people that a person with COVID-19 infects.
The rate is exactly at goal in the northeast section of the state, but it is 1.23 in the southwest region and 1.31 in the northwest region. In metropolitan areas, it is 1.24.
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Differences among counties are also seen in the numbers of cases reported.
Chaves County’s total number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases is 25, according to New Mexico Department of Health statistics. The state’s total number of cases stands at 4,138. The statewide increase in cases announced Tuesday was 107. So far, 974 people statewide have recovered, and 79,113 of the 83,351 tests conducted have been negative.
There were an additional six deaths statewide reported Tuesday but none in Chaves County. The total in Chaves County remains at one, with the state total now 162.
Five of the six newly reported deaths involved people 70 or older who were hospitalized or had been diagnosed with underlying conditions. A man in his 50s from McKinley County also was among the six.
In spite of the regional differences, Lujan Grisham said that all New Mexicans need to do a better job in following prevention guidelines. She listed these as staying at home unless absolutely necessary to leave, remaining at least six feet away from other people, and following recommended hygiene practices, including using face masks.
“We are not by the data and by our personal experience, and I am sure your very own, seeing the type of consistent work by New Mexicans to protect the state and each other,” she said. “And the standard really has to be this. You have to treat everything you do, every day, as if you have the virus.”
Scrase talked about other statistics that were concerning, including that the average number of cases reported per day in the northwest has steadily increased until just recently and is at 73. In other parts of the state, the rate has been declining but has leveled off at about 30 a day rather than continued to drop. He also said data shows that people have increased their car travel in the last few weeks.
Of the four “gating criteria” to determine when to ease restrictions, he said the state has met or is near two, the spread rate goal and the capacity for intensive care beds and personal protective equipment. But it has not met the other two, the testing goal of 5,000 people a day or the implementation of contact tracing and surveillance practices, which are just now being developed.
Because of the data about new cases and infection rates, Grisham announced the new face masks rules.
Effective today, all restaurant employees and all essential workers in retail operations of 50,000 square feet or larger will have to wear face masks while at work. By May 11, the rule is extended to all essential workers in all retail operations.
While the rules cover only some workers in the state, Lujan Grisham said that she would like for all New Mexicans to use face masks when around others.
“Consumers, in solidarity and in making sure that you are doing your part, I highly recommend that you wear face coverings for all of your essential travel to a business,” she said.
The “positive, good and fair” news she had for the day was hazard pay for childcare workers.
The incentives for early childhood care workers will be an additional $700 a week in hazard pay on top of their usual wages for full-time workers, and $350 a week additional pay for part-time workers.
“We required a number of employers and employees maintain business practices,” she said, explaining that meant that childcare had to be provided for those essential workers. “All of these childcare workers since March have been staying the course and serving safely and productively in a compassionate way.”
In addition, the state is giving a $12 million grant to licensed child care providers which, she said, have been “unequivocally harmed” by the COVID-19 situation, using funding that has been provided to the state by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Lujan Grisham said that it would give her no pleasure to extend “stay-at-home” orders or current restrictions on businesses, and she shared how it affects her personally because she is not able to hold her grandchildren or visit her mother in a nursing facility. But she said that it is the statewide data has to be what governs any easing of restrictions.
Asked about counties and cities that have passed resolutions to reopen or have asked her to consider working with them on plans for reopening, she said that reopening must hinge on good public health policy.
“We think it is valuable, important and we want to respect the work of every community and county, but we also want it to be consistent with sound public health data about where we go. This is another opportunity, this venue, to alert and remind every community and every elected official that we need you. We expect you to provide valuable — and it is — information about your intentions and your abilities. … We do need communities to also affirm in their readiness that they will assist in enforcement; sound modeling of productive behaviors; a strategy if the numbers increase, what they are wiling to do; and that they have upheld the current public health orders. If they don’t do that, they put the rest of the state at risk.”
Chaves County commissioners argued in their reopening resolution that the relatively few cases here, the capacity of local hospitals and other factors give a rationale for allowing business to resume if they follow safe practices. Roswell City Councilors passed a resolution indicating the economic harm caused to local industries and businesses, but it did not push for immediate reopening.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.