May 14, 2020

State to allow some businesses to open, require masks in public

Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in New Mexico and the State's effort to limit the impact of the disease on residents. The news conference is being held at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, Wednesday May 13, 2020. Pool photo.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday a slight easing of COVID-19 restrictions, while also announcing some increased restrictions as of Saturday, May 16. 

While Lujan Grisham said the state would start allowing retailers and some other businesses to open to the public with capacity limitations, she also said the new public health emergency order will require everyone in the state to wear a face and nose covering when in public spaces. 

She said many businesses, with the exception of entertainment businesses like movie theaters, could open this weekend as long as they keep their capacity at 25 percent of what the fire code allows. She said those businesses must also continue to take certain precautions against spreading COVID-19. 

Large retail “box” stores would have their capacity capped at 20 percent.

The easing of restrictions would not apply to Cibola, McKinley and San Juan counties, which are in northwestern New Mexico and have experienced the most cases so far. But those counties would see the restrictions moved to the “preparation phase” which the rest of the state has been in since May 1.

“It means that we expect you to have COVID safe practices, that your employees and staff are wearing masks and anything else that really works at stopping the spread of the virus,” Lujan Grisham said. 

She also announced the shift to require, everyone to wear masks or nose and mouth coverings in public areas. 

“This is very different than what I said last week,” Lujan Grisham said. “I was really concerned about enforcement, I still am. Fighting individuals for not wearing masks and being in a family gathering of eight instead of five is a really complicated, really punitive effort. It also taxes all of our first responders in ways that I don’t think is fair to any of our communities.”

But, she said, wearing masks in public is the only way to prevent more COVID-19 related deaths. According to Lujan Grisham, the state will help provide materials to make a simple, make-shift mask for those who do not have the money or resources to do so themselves. 

The governor also announced that places of worship could open up as long as they limit occupancy to 10 percent of what the fire code allows. 

And while the state will allow some summer programs and activities for kids, Lujan Grisham said there will be some limits on that as well, such as a five-to-one ratio for children and adults, no contact sports and no sports that involve mixing of two or more separate groups. Although, she also recommended that children who are at a higher risk of infection not participate in those sports or activities. 

Some of the restrictions that will remain after May 16 include no dine-in restaurants, gyms and salons will remain closed and the state will continue to prohibit  groups of people more than five people. The governor said people should still stay at least six feet away from each other. She also said it is “imperative” for people to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Although the easing of restrictions for most of the state does not apply to the northwest region of the state, which has been impacted the most. 

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said that overall, the state is seeing a slight decrease in both positive cases and deaths, although he said the southwest region of the state saw a recent increased spread rate. Going forward he said, New Mexicans should consider the more vulnerable people who may be at a higher risk. He also urged everyone to wear face coverings when in public and said it will be part of life for the foreseeable future. 

“We need to know how to live in a COVID world, because this is going to go on for 15 to 18 more months until we have an effective, proven vaccine,” Scrase said. 

He also said recent numbers have shown that New Mexico children have an infection rate that is four times higher than the national average. 

Going forward, Lujan Grisham said, it will be hard to pinpoint a date when the state can start to more fully open. She said she’s received many questions about when that might be and that her answer is it depends on how well the state sticks to the updated health order. 

“The virus decides that and our behavior as the virus lives among us,” She said. “Those are the deciding factors.”