Guv optimistic, but still cautious, as COVID-19 number improve

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials had good news for New Mexicans when it came to COVID-19 during her Thursday press conference. 

The number of cases, after reaching a peak in mid-July, have dropped down in the past couple of weeks through much of the state. The positivity rate on tests has also dropped, even as the number of tests remains high in the state. But Lujan Grisham noted that there is a long road ahead, and it’s not an invitation for New Mexicans to abandon COVID-safe practices. She warned the state is not “out of the woods” yet, even as things trend in the right direction. Because of this, and other efforts, Lujan Grisham and Aging and Long-term Services Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez announced that limited nursing home visitation would be allowed.

Public health order extended as state focuses on aid

The state of New Mexico will extend its public health order with very little changes to the current  one, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday. The state will still limit capacity at many locations, like places of worship and retail stores, and not allow indoor dining at restaurants, while keeping movie theaters closed and not allowing mass gatherings. Additionally, the state will still require all New Mexicans to wear face masks while in public. While the 14-day quarantine requirement for all travelers from other states remains in place, the governor said there would be some changes for those on necessary business and medical travel, likely announced on Friday. The public health order will also move wineries and distilleries into the same category as restaurants and breweries, which will allow them to serve customers outdoors, including on patios.

A ‘pause’ on in-person K-12 teaching until at least Labor Day

Amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in New Mexico and region-wide that hit a record-high for single-day cases in New Mexico Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that schools will not begin in-person instruction until at least Labor Day. “This pause on in-person reentry is not the same as delaying education support,” Lujan Grisham said. School districts will be able to work with a remote-learning, or an online-only model, until at least Labor Day. And during that time, the state Public Education Department encouraged districts to aid students in supplies for online learning and provide additional professional development for teachers. The state’s goal is to phase-in some in-person learning, using a hybrid model with some in-person instruction and the rest as remote learning, after Labor Day.

Indoor dining at restaurants nixed amid increase in cases, and more

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, citing an “untenable” increase in cases, brought back some restrictions beginning Monday, including saying that restaurants and breweries will not be able to have indoor service and restricting access to state parks to New Mexico residents only. But, she warned on Thursday, if things don’t improve, in-person schooling will not reopen this fall because it would not be safe for students, educators or other staff. This all came as the state sees its highest increase in cases, even higher than the first peak in May. The state has announced more than 200 cases of COVID-19 for over a week, and cases increased by 79 percent over the last 16 days. Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel said DOH has done 491 “rapid responses” for testing at places of employment since May 11. 

She also noted the long lines as people seek tests at places like Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, with some getting in line as early as 3 a.m.—causing those running the site to close down operations before 9 a.m. because so many people were in line.

Further reopening on pause as officials urge more widespread wearing of masks

One message resonated throughout the state’s press conference on COVID-19: wear a mask. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and officials said wearing a mask is key to slowing the spread of the virus—and to further reopening the state. Lujan Grisham said the state of New Mexico has seen an uptick in cases of the disease in recent days, and that further easing of restrictions, and moving on to the next phase of reopening, would be on hold. “Our goal should be to reduce cases,” she said. “What happens when we reduce cases?

HSD secretary continues to encourage masks, social distancing

Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase continued to urge New Mexicans to wear masks and stay socially distanced as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I think there’s this general belief out amongst the people in New Mexico that things are getting better and now we can all get back to work,” Scrase said during a Friday webinar with the media. And he acknowledged much of the gating criteria, which the state uses to assess readiness for further phases of reopening. 

However, he still called for caution, since it is so soon from when the state reopened portions of the economy on June 1, and surrounding states are seeing increased numbers.. “The virus is the same. People are easily infected without masks,” he said.

Breweries to reopen, but governor warns COVID-19 risks remain

On Thursday, the governor called the COVID-19 news over the last week a “mixed bag,” but did announce another slight reopening of the economy, allowing breweries to reopen on a limited basis beginning on Friday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said breweries would be able to take part in a “soft opening” on Friday, which would include outdoor and patio service, and expand to indoor service on Monday. The breweries would need to abide by COVID-safe precautions, similar to those in place for restaurants. The similarity with restaurants is one reason why the governor said breweries were free to reopen but bars would be open at a later date. Related: 121 additional cases and 10 additional related deaths due to COVID-19

No more than six people will be allowed at tables, while tables themselves will need to be distanced.

Indoor dining at restaurants, more to open June 1 as state eases more restrictions

New Mexico’s next public health order will be a big step toward reopening businesses throughout the state, including allowing gym attendance, indoor dining at restaurants at limited capacity, limited opening of hair salons and barbershops and more. The public health order, which the governor’s office said will be executed and disseminated on Friday, will go into effect on June 1. “It is an opportunity for our businesses to get engaged again in the economy,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. However, the governor said and state health officials warned on Thursday that this is not an excuse to ignore safety measures and that masks will still be required in public. “As businesses did their part to protect New Mexicans, we have to protect businesses that we continue to expand in terms of opening the economy,” Lujan Grisham said.

Town hall with NM scientists provides answers to questions about COVID-19

New Mexico is one of two states – the other is New York – that meets the gating criteria set by the White House for reopening, according to a group of public health and crisis experts. A website called covidexitstrategy.org is mapping the state-by-state response to reopening and, according to the map, only New Mexico and New York meet the gating criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization is made up of public health and crisis experts who are nonpartisan and worked at the federal level during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, according to the site. The criteria include things like the number of ICU beds available and the downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico’s secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, talked about the map and New Mexico’s criteria for reopening during a town hall meeting broadcast live through social media Wednesday along with Dr. Richard Larson, vice chancellor for research with the University of New Mexico Health Science.

State on track to expand reopening on June 1

“We think that we’re through the peak,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during her press conference Wednesday afternoon. But, she and health officials warned, without continued social distancing the state could see another peak and have to go backwards on reopening. The governor also announced a date for the state’s special session to address a massive budget hole, which projections said would exceed $2 billion. Because New Mexico continues to do well in slowing the spread of COVID-19, the governor said that the state appeared to be on track to open more businesses, including dine-in restaurants by the start of June, what the governor referred to as “Phase 1B.”

Much of the state entered Phase 1 of the reopening on May 15, which allowed retail stores to reopen as long as they abided by 25 percent capacity and the COVID-safe practices outlined by the state. The new phase, Lujan Grisham said, would include dine-in restaurants, salons, gyms, malls and other services.