Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
New Mexico will return to more strict public heath orders on Monday due to what state leaders called a “pandemic out of control,” as seen in spiking numbers of new daily cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, including in the southeast region of the state.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unveiled an amended public health order during a Thursday press conference to take effect Monday that prohibits indoor seating at restaurants and breweries, and out-of-state visitors at state parks. She also issued a warning that schools might not be able to reopen in August unless the daily cases begin to fall again. Contact sports also are banned for the fall season. (See related sidebar.)
Most importantly, Lujan Grisham and her team stressed that people must wear masks whenever outside their homes, even when exercising or walking.
Others participating in the conference who urged the use of face coverings included Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, and Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatrician and president of the New Mexico Medical Society.
“I have very little time to save lives, and we will enforce,” Lujan Grisham said. “We have State Police in many locations, including at Elephant Butte and park rangers, and we are going to leverage every tool.”
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She added that more local law enforcement agencies are starting to aid in issuing warnings and citations and that she expects participation.
“Will every jurisdiction help us the way I think they should? I bet not,” she said. “And we will work with the Attorney General and continue to remind that … they should and they can.”
State cases now total 14,251
The state reported 238 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, for a total of 14,251 since March. It also reported six additional deaths, including two people in their 30s. Deaths have now reached 533.
Scrase called the situation a “pandemic out of control,” with a 79% increase in the daily case count during the past six days.
Lujan Grisham explained that, without behavior changes by New Mexicans, an additional 639 people could die in the next five weeks under the current trends.
For Chaves County, the number of new cases increased. There were four new cases for the county Thursday, to reach a total of 151. No new deaths occurred, so the county still has had two people who have passed away due to COVID-19.
But Scrase stressed that the 7-day average of new daily cases is increasing everywhere in the state except for the northeast region, which has seen a slight decrease in new cases in recent days. While the average daily growth rate is 1.7% statewide, it is much higher in southeastern counties. In Chaves County, the average is now 5.1%.
Scrase warned against any complacency among New Mexico residents about the nature of the coronavirus. He said it is affecting younger people now, and he listed severe difficulties that people have experienced here and in other states. He said that complications have included severe lung damage requiring organ transplants, seizures, strokes and male infertility.
He also said that New Mexico is falling below the gating criteria for a safe return to normal activities in three of the six measured categories. Testing capacity, the supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the number of ICU beds occupied are all within the necessary range, but the state is falling below the needed standard for the three other benchmarks, including the spread rate, defined as how many days it takes for an infected person to spread the virus to others. It is now 1.16 statewide instead of 1.05. In the southeast region, the spread rate is now 1.66.
Amended orders ‘tough decision’
The changes to the public health orders are meant to address businesses where face masks cannot be worn because people are eating and drinking.
Therefore, indoor seating will not be allowed in restaurants or breweries, although they can still have 50% occupancy in outdoor seating areas, as well as provide curbside, pickup and delivery service.
In response to a question, Lujan Grisham said that her team decided against the type of business closures that were required back in March because she wants instead to emphasize safe individual and business practices, including face masks.
Restaurants and breweries have been singled out because they are the sites of dramatic increases in cases among staff and customers, she said. They also fall in the high-risk category described by the “three Cs:” closed space, crowded spaces and close contact.
In another change to mitigate the risk from other states, only those who can produce proof that they are New Mexico residents will be allowed at state parks, which will continue to be open only for day uses, not overnight camping.
While banning contact youth sports for the fall, Lujan Grisham said that she does not want to have to delay or postpone the start of public K12 schools and hopes that changed behaviors over the next few weeks will flatten the curve as needed.
The key to the change is safe behaviors by New Mexicans whenever they are outside their home, the governor and her team said.
“We are still at a time when we don’t have great medications, and we are still looking for a vaccine, so the strategy right now is to change behaviors,” said Wright. “I am talking about simple behaviors such as standing a little bit apart from each other, trying to avoid hand shakes, being aware of our hands and making sure that our hands don’t touch our face and, more importantly, to wear a mask at all times. … If you care about others, if you care about the suffering of others — because a lot of people suffer from this virus even if you don’t die from it — if you care about our economy and if you care about life, then wearing a mask is the right thing to do.”
The speakers likened face masks to other behavior changes that have been made over the years, including requirements for seat belts, banning smoking in public places and mandating infant car seats.
“These are behavior changes we fought hard for and that a lot of people opposed, but eventually they were made,” said Wright.
Scrase added that the efficacy of masks is now better understood after studies about what has worked to contain infection in other countries and states.
“The best way to get back to flattening the curve is to have 100% of New Mexicans comply with public health orders,” he said.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.