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State announces stricter COVID orders

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New Mexico COVID count up by 355

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Department of Health have announced some more stringent public health and executive orders to take effect Friday.

The orders reduce occupancy levels at hotels, restrict operating hours at establishments serving alcohol, reduce allowable crowd sizes and return a 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers coming from higher-risk areas.

The state announcement said that the changes in existing public health orders are needed to respond to the “alarming rise of COVID-19 illnesses statewide.”

Last week, New Mexico had its highest number of new daily cases ever at 488. During the past eight days, it has had 2,845 cases. The statewide positivity rate is now 3.3%. The state also has not met some of the reopening gating criteria during the past few weeks, the announcement indicated.

“Without a vaccine, we have only a few tools against this awful, invisible enemy,” said Lujan Grisham. “We must wear our masks. We must avoid large groups of people. We must limit our travel outside of the home, particularly our time in enclosed indoor spaces. When we do these things, we can crush the virus, and we protect our families, our communities and our state from being overrun by illness. But the virus is booming in New Mexico right now. The increases we’ve seen here are some of the worst in the entire United States this fall. This kind of overwhelming and dramatic statewide spread signals one thing: Too many of us, succumbing to COVID fatigue, are no longer using those tools. We’re no longer taking those precautions. We are giving the virus too many opportunities to spread.”

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Tuesday’s numbers still high

New Mexico had 355 new cases Tuesday and three COVID-related deaths, according to a separate New Mexico Department of Health announcement.

The total number of cases is now 33,713, with 18,960 reported as recovered and 918 deaths. The three coronavirus-related deaths reported Tuesday involved a man in his 80s and a woman in her 60s from Bernalillo County and a woman in her 90s from Curry County. Two had been hospitalized and all three had been diagnosed with pre-existing conditions.

Chaves was one of 23 counties to have new cases. Its daily count was 10, which brings its total count since March to 1,561. Of that total, 640 are reported as recovered, while 15 deaths have occurred.

The highest number of new cases on Tuesday were reported by Bernalillo County, with 121; Doña Ana, with 50; Santa Fe, with 41; Curry, with 24; Sandoval, with 21; and Lea, with 19. Valencia and Chaves had 10 each.

Extending, amending state orders

The governor said the current orders will be renewed with amendments that are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“When the community spread of the virus becomes uncontrollable — and we are fast approaching that point — our only option is to simply shut down those opportunities for the virus,” said Lujan Grisham. “We’ve made so much progress to sustain reopenings and our limited, safe in-person learning efforts — but that progress is rapidly disappearing.”

She also said that even more restrictions concerning indoor dining or occupancy in retail stores could occur if decreased spread rates are not achieved.

The changes and additions to existing public health orders and executive orders are due to be discussed in more detail during at Thursday press conference. The four announced Tuesday are as follows:

• All food or drinking establishments that serve alcohol will be required to close at 10 p.m. for the time being.

An industry member who serves on the state Economic Recovery Council said the change was necessary because some restaurants and bars are operating in unsafe ways. “These problems nearly all occur after hours, when some restaurants are simply acting as bars, where spread of the virus is not inhibited,” said Alan Affeldt. “Because of this, I and many of my fellow hotel and restaurant operators are in full support of a temporary limit on operating hours for late-night restaurants and bars.”

The state, which licenses restaurants and bars, will “rigorously enforce this requirement,” the announcement said.

• Maximum hotel occupancy is being reduced.

Lodging businesses that have completed the free online New Mexico Safe Certified training program can operate at a maximum of 60% occupancy. All others can have a maximum occupancy of 25%. The current public health order allowed 75% occupancy for NM Safe Certified lodging enterprises and 50% for others.

• The maximum size of a mass gathering is reduced back down to five people. The current orders has allowed gatherings of 10 individuals.

A “mass gathering” is defined as any public or private gathering, organized event, ceremony, parade, organized amateur contact sport or other grouping that brings together individuals in an indoor or outdoor space.

• An executive order will be amended to require a minimum of a 14-day quarantine for people traveling into New Mexico from a “higher-risk” state.

If travelers from these states are here for less than 14 days, they must remain in quarantine for their entire stay.

A higher-risk state is defined as one having a positivity rate of greater than 5% or more than 80 cases per 100,000 residents. The list of higher-risk states is updated regularly and available on a state website, www.cv.nmhealth.org. Forty-two states were on the list as of Oct. 7.

Under the current travel order, people could be exempt from the quarantine if they tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their arrival into New Mexico.