October 13, 2020

State to tighten restrictions amid sharp growth in cases

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham goes over the latest statistics of coronavirus cases in New Mexico during a news conference Thursday to address the state of New Mexico’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that the next public health order for COVID-19, which will go into effect on Oct. 16, will impose some further restrictions, including a curfew for food and drink establishments, a reduction in hotel occupancy and amendments to the quarantine requirements for those traveling from out of state.

The state also will bar any public gatherings of five or more individuals. The state had eased this to allow gatherings of up to ten people in late August.

More details, the governor’s office said, will be available on Thursday during the governor’s regular COVID-19 press conference.

The changes come as the state has experienced a large increase in COVID-19 cases. New Mexico’s seven-day average of new cases, by specimen collection, reached 333, as of Oct. 7. This is the highest for the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

The daily number of reported cases, which differs because of how long it takes some labs to process and report totals, has also sharply increased in recent weeks. The state is reporting an average of 390 cases over the last seven days.

The new announced changes do not include any new full closures.

Food and drink establishments will have to close by 10 p.m., according to the order, and hotel occupancy will be reduced to 60 percent for hotels that have completed the state’s safe certified training program and 25 percent for those who have not. Previously, the occupancy was 75 percent and 50 percent.

If things continue to get worse, the governor warned, she would have to impose further restrictions.

“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,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We’ve made so much progress to sustain reopenings and our limited, safe in-person learning efforts – but that progress is rapidly disappearing. Rollbacks will mean more economic turmoil for so many workers and business owners in our state who have already suffered and sacrificed so much. But it is our only chance to prevent more devastating illness and to save lives.”

The release announcing the new changes noted that the state has missed its gating criteria for several weeks.

Allan Affeldt, a hotel and restaurant owner and member of the state’s Economic Recovery Council, said he supported the changes and said that businesses that haven’t abided by the state’s COVID rules have led to the need to reimpose the rules.

“These business owners threaten the survival of all businesses in the state and the health of their customers and staff,” Affeldt said. “These problems nearly all occur after hours, when some restaurants are simply acting as bars, where spread of the virus is not inhibited. 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.”

Republican Party of New Mexican Chairman Steve Pearce criticized the changes.

“The governor’s actions are senseless, lack any consistency and offer no progress to reviving our sinking state,” Pearce said in a statement. The governor continues to demonstrate failed leadership and offers her constituents no concrete solutions to handle the pandemic.”

The quarantine will also see changes. 

While those who travel from high-risk states (states with a test positivity rate over 5 percent and with COVID-19 per capita at 80 per 100,000 residents or more) will have to self-quarantine for 14 days or their duration of time in New Mexico, whichever is longer. They will no longer be able to be exempt from the quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 within three days of their entry into the state.

Update: Added more information about the mass gatherings rule.

Update (7:00 p.m.): Added quote from Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce.