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NM eases self-quarantine restrictions for travelers

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Air travel in New Mexico is down 78% compared to 2019. The changes in state orders are expected to help the tourism industry. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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Capacity increased for hotels with NM Safe certification

The state has eased up on some restrictions affecting commercial lodging premises and mandatory self-quarantines for people coming into the state from other areas of the country.

The changes to public health and executive orders announced Thursday and taking effect today should help a state tourism industry that has recorded $2 billion less in visitor spending in 2020.

“As I have said, we have to maintain the necessary precautions to keep the people of New Mexico safe, while identifying areas where we can amend restrictions to address our state’s economic crisis,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said when announcing the changes.

Traveler quarantine changes

Under Lujan Grisham’s new executive order, self-quarantine, also called self-isolation, will no longer be required of travelers under two conditions. One is if people are coming here from U.S. states with lower COVID-19 risks. The other is if people coming here have tested negative for the coronavirus 72 hours immediately before or after arrival.

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Under previous executive orders, anyone entering the state from any other U.S. state or foreign country, whether by air, mass transit or personal vehicle, had to self-isolate for 14 days, leaving their lodgings only for medical care.

Exceptions were made for some categories of people such as airline workers, public safety employees, federal employees, military personnel and national defense contractors, first responders and health care workers, people who left the state for less than 24 hours for parenting responsibilities, those who leave to obtain medical care, people ordered to New Mexico by a court, people attending day school in other states, or people engaged in “essential” business activities.

The new executive order keeps those exemptions, but also will allow those who enter New Mexico to forgo mandatory self-isolation if they have negative tests or if coming from the lower risk states.

The 72-hour negative test result applies to travelers into New Mexico from any U.S. state, but it requires self-isolation until documentation of the negative test result is obtained. Also, the exemption does not exist for people arriving here from foreign countries.

The other exemption from mandatory self-isolation is only valid for people coming from U.S. states and territories with a COVID-19 positivity rate of less than 5% or with a COVID-19 positive test rate of less than 80 per 1 million population.

People coming to New Mexico from these lower risk areas are instead “advised” to get tested for COVID-19 within five to seven days of their arrival in New Mexico and are “advised,” rather than required, to self-isolate until a negative test result is available.

The New Mexico Health Department will keep a list of higher-risk states and territories on its website, cv.nmhealth.org.

There are now 14 states that are lower risk and 36 that are higher risk. The higher-risk states and territories are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

People who do not follow the executive orders about self-isolation can be placed in mandatory quarantines by state officials, according to the executive order.

Lodging changes

The change in the public health order issued by the New Mexico Department of Health will allow more occupancy at hotels and other short-term lodging premises if the businesses have completed the New Mexico Safe certification.

Effective today and until at least Oct. 2, certified lodging premises can increase from 50% occupancy to 75% occupancy.

The certification can be obtained for free, said Cody Johnson, public information officer with the New Mexico Tourism Department.

Johnson said the certification had been received by 567 businesses in New Mexico as of Monday. Two hotels in Roswell were among those, he said.

“There clearly has been impact due to the pandemic itself,” Johnson said, “It was something that we, as a state, felt comfortable doing. We were in position with the way the numbers were trending that we could do this.”

Travel and hospitality industry impact

The New Mexico Tourism Department has published data about COVID-19 impacts collected from various sources. The Aug. 31 report indicates that hotel occupancy in New Mexico was at about 45% for the week ended Aug. 22, compared to about 65% in early March. From mid-March until early May, it was less than 40%. The 14-day self-isolation requirement was described by the Tourism Department as a major factor for the downturn on occupancy, as well as other tourism-related economic data points.

For example, visitor spending in New Mexico is down by 39%, or $2 billion, so far in 2020. Commercial air travel in New Mexico has decreased by 78% compared to 2019, according to data about check-ins done by the Transportation Security Administration. That makes New Mexico ninth in the United States for largest passenger count declines.

When asked why they were not traveling, 40% of survey respondents said they did not feel safe leaving their communities, but 52% also cited unclear and confusing travel restrictions as a factor.

Results from another study by Oxford Economics published by the New Mexico Tourism Department shows that it could take until 2023 for U.S. travel spending to reach about the same levels as in 2019.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.