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

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.

Hospital leaders urge vaccinations among surge during ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’

Leaders from New Mexico’s largest healthcare systems had a message for New Mexicans: Get vaccinated. During a press conference Tuesday, they discussed the current surge in cases, which they all described as largely among those who remain unvaccinated. “Evidence shows that COVID-19 is now really a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales said. “In New Mexico, 93 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are in the unvaccinated. In Presbyterian hospitals statewide, we’re experiencing a doubling of cases every week.”

A majority of New Mexico adults, 65.5 percent, were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, and over 53 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.

Governor, others ask private sector to implement vaccination policies

A number of elected officials, including New Mexico’s governor and both of the state’s U.S. Senators, encouraged the private sector to implement vaccination policies for employees. The state has implemented a vaccine requirement for employees. Employees who don’t get vaccinated will need to have regular tests. “A willingness on the part of private sector leaders to take the initiative here in New Mexico will keep your workforce safer, boost consumer confidence and help guarantee that our steady economic progress is not needlessly endangered or reversed,” the letter states. The letter cites increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and the fact that the vast majority of deaths in the last six months among those who are unvaccinated.

Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigns

Embattled House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned from her position in the state legislature amid state and federal investigations into alleged corruption related to her role in Albuquerque Public Schools. Earlier this week, state investigators raided Williams Stapleton’s house and Friday the Albuquerque Journal reported APS received a federal grand jury subpoena. By Friday afternoon, House Democrat leadership announced that Williams Stapleton had resigned. “Given the weight of the allegations against Rep. Stapleton and the ongoing investigation, her resignation from the House is appropriate and in the best interest of the Legislature and the state,” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, and House Majority Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson said. “There is important work to be done for the people of New Mexico, and House Democrats and our strong leadership team will continue to remain focused on serving our constituents and moving our great state forward.” 

The state investigation included allegations of “racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.”

The state search warrants said that businesses and charities operated by Williams Stapleton received nearly $1 million from Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company that has contracts with Albuquerque Public Schools.

State to require vaccinations or regular tests for state employees

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order on Thursday that will require all state employees to be either vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing. The move, which starts on August 2, comes as vaccine cases statewide grow and as the state recommends all New Mexicans wear masks in public indoor settings. 

State employees who are not vaccinated must wear a facemask while working indoors and submit a negative COVID-19 test at least every two weeks. Those who do not, the announcement said, will be subject to disciplinary action, which could include termination. Health and elected officials nationwide have been promoting vaccinations as rates slowed in recent months. In New Mexico as of Wednesday, 72.6 percent of those 18+ have received at least one dose of vaccine and 64.5 percent are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 cases grow as officials urge New Mexicans to mask up

Top state health officials spoke about the threat of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in New Mexico and nationwide and encouraged New Mexicans to wear masks, following federal health guidelines. The health officials came into the meeting with masks on. “This is not like throwback baseball uniforms,” Dr. David Scrase, the state Human Services Secretary said. “But it does remind me a lot about 14, 15 months ago, when we started wearing masks at press conferences.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this week that those who are vaccinated but live in areas of substantial or high transmission should wear masks in public indoor settings. Four counties in New Mexico (Eddy, Hidalgo, Lincoln and Otero counties) reach the CDC definition of “high” transmission as of Monday, while 14 counties, including Bernalillo, Sandoval and San Juan counties, reached the definition of “substantial” transmission.

AG raids House Majority Leader’s home

State investigators served search warrants at the Albuquerque home of House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton according to multiple media reports. The Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican and other outlets reported the warrants from the Attorney General’s office were in regard to investigations into ties to Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company that has had a contract with Albuquerque Public Schools for over a decade. The investigation includes allegations of “racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.” The Journal reported the search warrants said businesses and charities operated by Williams Stapleton received more than $950,000 from the company since 2012. Williams Stapleton is the career and technical education director for the school district, which is the largest in the state.

Survey: Half of New Mexicans approve of governor’s job performance

A poll conducted by SurveyUSA for KOB-TV showed that half of New Mexico adults approve of how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing her job. The poll showed that 50 percent of those polled approved of her job performance, while 32 percent disapproved and 18 percent were not sure. Lujan Grisham received the support of 80 percent of Democrats, compared to 9 percent who disapproved. Just 28 percent of Republicans approved of her job performance, compared to 57 percent who disapproved. She also had the support of 47 percent of independents, while 32 percent disapproved.

New Mexico lifts pandemic restrictions

The state’s pandemic restrictions ended on Thursday, marking the end of restrictions that have been in place for over 470 days. The state first put occupancy rules in place last March, when the state recorded its first cases of COVID-19. Since then, the state has reported 205,542 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,340 deaths related to COVID-19. The reopening means that all capacity restrictions will be lifted and all businesses can operate at 100 percent capacity. There is also no longer any limit on mass gatherings, indoor or outdoor.

NM hits 60 percent vaccination mark

The state of New Mexico reached two milestones in its vaccination efforts this week: over 1 million people fully vaccinated and 60 percent of all residents age 16 or older fully vaccinated. The numbers came as the state announced it would fully reopen businesses to maximum capacity on July 1, more than a year after the state limited capacity. Currently, 60.2 percent of all New Mexicans age 16 or older are vaccinated. The state breached the 1 million mark as of its update on Monday on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, then reached the 60 percent mark on Wednesday. The state can have more people fully vaccinated in the coming weeks as well—with either two shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine—as 68.7 percent of New Mexicans age 16 or older have received at least one shot. 

In addition to these numbers, 18.5 percent of New Mexicans age 12-15, or 20,616 total, have completed their vaccination series, with 27.2 percent with at least one shot. 

The rate of vaccinations varies widely by county.