August 18, 2021

Mask mandate for public, indoor spaces returns; vaccination requirements expanded

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

An electronic video board displays a message encouraging students to wear masks as classes begin amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the first day of the fall 2020 semester at the University of New Mexico on August 17, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the university has moved to a hybrid instruction model that includes a mixture of in-person and remote classes. According to the school, about 70 percent of classes are being taught online.

In an effort to curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the governor announced a mask mandate for all public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, which she was hopeful would be enough to blunt the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“We’re going to use masks and vaccines to blunt the spread of COVID and see if we can’t rebalance where we are as a state, particularly given the Delta variant,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The mask mandate will go into place on Friday, Aug. 20 and last until at least Sept. 15.

The governor also announced a vaccination requirement for workers in high-risk settings, or hospitals and congregate care facilities.

This includes all workers, paid and unpaid, who have potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or areas where patients have access in hospitals, and workers at congregate care facilities including nursing homes, state correctional facilities, hospice and more. Those who are eligible for the limited exemptions, for valid medical reasons or a sincerely held religious belief.

The state will also impose a vaccination requirement for school workers. Those who receive exemptions will be required to provide weekly negative COVID-19 tests.

School employees—at public, private and charter schools—will also be required to get vaccinated or provide a negative test each week.

“Safe in person learning is the gold standard,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that we have a safe in-person school year, even with our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

All of these efforts came as hospitals remained full, with an increasing number of patients with COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 341 people in New Mexico were in hospital with COVID-19.

“We’re in a terrible place for healthcare services and protecting our healthcare workers,” Lujan Grisham said.

While the state is not mandating a pause in elective surgeries, Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the Human Services Department and acting Health Secretary, said hospitals have themselves already started doing so.

He said hospitals are also already converting spaces in the hospitals to hold more COVID-19 patients.

“We have one hospital that’s running at 150 percent capacity,” Scrase said.

The state will also require a proof of vaccination for all those entering the State Fair at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque, which runs from Sept. 9-19, with limited exceptions.

For other large events that the state does not control, like the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Lujan Grisham said the state could provide best practices and suggestions but could not mandate vaccinations as with the State Fair.

Lujan Grisham and Scrase also addressed the idea that migrants crossing the border were causing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Lujan Grisham said she spoke with U.S. Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and said she believed the federal government should “enhance our screening protocols” at the Canadian border, Mexican border and airports.

And Scrase said that state lab director Mike Edwards texted to say “there is no evidence at all” that the increase in COVID-19 is being caused by those crossing the border.

“All of the lineages and parents, if you will, the viral strains we’re seeing here in New Mexico actually have come from other places in the United States,” Scrase said.

“I worry that some of the national news, which is not really news, is highly politicized, highly inflammatory, and more often than not completely incorrect,” Lujan Grisham said.