New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reminded residents on Friday afternoon not to become complacent about coronavirus precautions just because today more businesses, stores and parks will be allowed to reopen, at least in a limited manner.
She also announced that the Motor Vehicles Department offices will reopen for some appointments June 1.
“The next several days will be very telling,” she said during her online press conference. “While I don’t like an increase case number — and we have it today — we are going to look at it over a period of time. I hope that the next time I come to you, our trend lines — our peaks and surges information — is staying in the ranges we expect to. Because if we don’t, then we have to look at whether the decisions that we made were timely and safe enough.”
As announced Wednesday, public health orders have been relaxed a bit statewide except for three northwestern counties with high numbers of COVID-19 cases. But, in exchange, all people in the state will be required to wear face masks or face coverings whenever they leave their homes, except when eating, drinking or exercising.
All retail operations, not just those previously deemed essential, can reopen today at 25% of their building capacity, as determined by fire codes, if they use safe practices such as face coverings, social distancing of at least 6 feet between people and sanitizing of surfaces. Churches can reopen at 25% building capacity.
More state parks are opening this weekend as well, although Bottomless Lakes State Park, east of Roswell, is not among those.
But Lujan Grisham said the relaxed order does not mean people can ignore precautions. She urged them to continue washing their hands frequently, maintain social distance, wear face masks and stay home and telecommute unless a critical need necessitates going to other places. Absentee voting also was stressed as the better option than in-person voting.
“Easiest thing, don’t go out. Easiest thing, we have stay-at-home policies. Easiest thing, don’t leave your house,” she said.
She and Dr. David Scrase of the Human Services Department said that continued caution is needed because cases rise and what she called vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with other medical issues need to be protected.
164 new cases
The number of cases reported Friday for New Mexico increased by 164, with 11 additional deaths. There were no new cases or deaths in Chaves County, so it continues to have had 30 diagnosed cases and two deaths.
The majority of new cases, 130, were in three counties, Bernalillo (36), McKinley (57) and San Juan (37). All 11 deaths reported were residents of those counties as well. All were in their 50s to 80s and were in care facilities or had underlying medical conditions.
New Mexico has had 5,662 diagnosed COVID-19 cases, out of 124,258 tests. The people recovered are counted at 1,671.
The state has met a few of its gating criteria to reopen, including that the spread rate statewide is now the recommended 1.5. That rate has been defined as the average number of people one person with COVID-19 infects in the state.
The daily number of tests performed is also at 5,000, which is the minimum goal, as the state works to reach 7,500 a day. But Scrase said ICU beds in hospitals in high-case areas are full. While access to other ICU beds is available, he said that is an indication that statewide concerns remain.
Hoping for ‘sea change’ in attitudes
Lujan Grisham said that she wants to use positive reinforcement to get people to use face coverings. While police could cite someone, she said she expects that they will give people reminders instead. Face coverings can be made at home, or they can be obtained from the state. More information about state-provided masks are available on the website, www.cv.nmhealth.org.
She also encouraged businesses to require face coverings for all customers and to continue what she termed good modeling by sanitizing services and keeping business locations clean. She said that she hoped there could be a “sea change” in the state regarding behaviors and likened it to the changes that led to acceptance for seatbelts, car seats and car airbags.
She also announced that starting June 1, Motor Vehicle Department offices will reopen to serve people by appointment if they cannot obtain what they need online. She said employees and customers will need to wear face masks and that cars used for driving tests will be sanitized.
In answer to a reporter’s question, she acknowledged the lawsuits that have challenged some of her orders and policies, but said that, so far, courts have ruled in favor of the administration’s decisions. She said she did not like issues to be politicized, but she said she understood people’s rights to challenge government actions by filing lawsuits.
“Many groups and organizations have,” she said, “and, so far, we have found that we are on very sound legal footing or grounds.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.