Home News COVID-19 Situation More restrictions announced to ‘snuff out’ COVID

More restrictions announced to ‘snuff out’ COVID

In this July 23 file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives an update on COVID-19 in New Mexico in Santa Fe. Lujan Grisham, speaking Tuesday afternoon from the Governor’s Mansion, said new restrictions are a “crackdown” on the “exponential increase” of COVID-19 cases, rather than an economic shutdown. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

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Amended order to affect many businesses, state museums and historic sites

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced some new restrictions on businesses and state sites after the state’s worst week of COVID-19 spread since the pandemic began.

“We are in a very difficult place currently in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said Tuesday during a televised press conference. “The virus doesn’t have to win. We can win. We can manage it. We can come back down to a 2% positivity rate. And I am optimistic that these efforts, working in partnership with our businesses, that we can make these differences as long as New Mexicans support these.”

Joining the governor in making the announcements of “targeted mitigation efforts” were Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, Secretary of the Environment James Kenney and Secretary of Human Services Dr. David Scrase.

Four changes will take effect with amended public health orders Friday:

• Businesses will be required to close for two weeks if they have four rapid responses during a two-week period. Rapid responses are when employers make their required reports to the New Mexico Environment Department and its Occupational Safety and Health Bureau of a positive COVID-19 case among staff. This new rule applies to food and drink establishments, retailers, gyms, fitness centers, salons, lodging businesses, bowling alleys and other “close-contact” businesses, as defined by the state public health order.

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• All retailers — with exemptions for pharmacies or essential health care services — will be required to close at 10 p.m. Food and drink establishments have been required to meet that curfew since last Friday.

• Only those food and drink businesses that complete the online, free New Mexico Safe Certified program by Oct. 30 will be able to offer indoor seating after that date. They also must consent to free spot COVID-19 testing of their workers by the state and keep a log of names and contact information of their customers for contact tracing purposes. Higher-risk counties, which includes Chaves, will receive priority for spot-testing. Restaurants and other food and drink businesses not offering indoor dining can offer outdoor seating at 75% capacity while keeping tables six feet apart and following other COVID-safe rules.

• All state museums and historical sites will close Friday.

Lujan Grisham and her fellow administration members said that the changes are needed to reduce deaths; ensure that hospitals, health care workers and Health Department employees do not get overwhelmed; and keep the economy functioning with a healthy workforce and population.

She and others also said all New Mexicans could do their part by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, staying home or limiting trips outside their homes to three or fewer a day. The governor also suggested that people shop alone, not as a family, and that they consider curbside or online shopping instead of in-person shopping.

An alternative to a shutdown

A local business leader said she thought that the certification requirement was something that Roswell restaurants would accept to keep indoor seating.

“I am definitely not for a shutdown,” said Andrea Moore, the board president for the Roswell Chamber of Commerce. “As far as the New Mexico Safe certification, if that means that our restaurants can stay open, then I think that is what we will have to do.”

Lujan Grisham said during the conference that members of the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the New Mexico Hospitality Association had provided input regarding the certification requirement.

“Food and drink establishments remain a top source, as I have talked about, of possible exposure, according to state contact tracers, and we have to find a way to safely operate indoor dining and lower the spread and rate of COVID infection,” she said. “We think these structures and these COVID-safe practices are the prudent way forward.”

The Republican Party of New Mexico criticized the governor’s decisions, saying that the actions “gut businesses, destroy our economy and continue to punish students, parents and teachers.”

Chairman Steve Pearce said that stricter regulations will not fix the problem and questioned the validity of the data-based approach being used if it led to spiking infection rates.

“We must get our state moving again. We have to get back to normal,” he said. “New Mexicans are strong, good people, but they cannot be forced to live by the governor’s arbitrary rules. We must have a choice.”

Numbers heading in wrong direction

After months of being a model for COVID-19 containment, New Mexico has now become one of the nation’s higher risk states, with an average of 525 new cases a day last week and a 1.27 spread rate, one of the highest in the United States.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate is now 6.5%, almost double what it was on Oct. 1.

“When the test positivity rate goes up, there is a lot more going on than we are just doing more testing,” said Scrase. “In fact, many of us believe that when that positivity rate gets above 5 that more testing is needed to identify all the cases. These numbers put together represent that the virus is spreading rapidly through our communities in New Mexico, and significant caution and concern is warranted and all of us need really to attend what is happening in the state.”

Scrase said that there is a concern that New Mexico’s hospital capacity could be exceeded. He said that 81% of adult hospital beds in the state are now occupied. In addition, 71%, or 432 of 605, intensive care beds are now in use.

He said the fact that New Mexico has a high percentage of adults with health problem such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity means that its hospital capacity is an especially important issue.

Scrase could not say how many beds are now occupied by COVID-19 patients, but he said that New Mexico hospitals typically stay 60% to 65% occupied. He added that 238 COVID-19 patients are now hospitalized, with reports of 51 more suspected COVID-19 patients receiving in-patient care.

Lujan Grisham also responded to some critics’ views that in-person schooling, detention centers and nursing facilities account for the majority of the positive tests. She said that only about 6% of cases come from those sources, with the rest attributed to community spread.

The governor said that most New Mexicans are not behaving that much differently than other states’ residents, but she said she thought the spike in cases during the past few weeks is due to Labor Day weekend activities, “super spreader” events here and in other states, and the fact that border cities such as El Paso and West Texas cities have had high COVID-19 rates.

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

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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