New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this week extended the state’s emergency public health order that was set to expire Friday and added more restrictive measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
New Mexico has seen a steep increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
“The increases we’ve seen here are some of the worst in the entire United States this fall,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.
As a part of the new restrictions, restaurants serving liquor will not be able to stay open after 10 p.m., maximum capacity for hotels will be reduced and “mass gatherings” of more than five people will not be allowed.
Guidelines around wearing masks, limiting travel outside the home and avoiding large groups remain in effect.
“This kind of overwhelming and dramatic statewide spread signals one thing: Too many of us, succumbing to COVID fatigue, are no longer using those tools,” Grisham said Tuesday. “We’re no longer taking those precautions. We are giving the virus too many opportunities to spread. And the enemy is taking advantage.”
A new restriction that affects residents in the Four Corners requires people traveling to New Mexico from “high-risk” states – any state with a test positivity rate exceeding 5% and a test positivity rate higher than 80 per 100,000 residents – to quarantine for 14 days. Previously, residents could enter New Mexico with a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of a visit. Now, residents entering New Mexico from a high-risk state will be asked to quarantine regardless of any COVID-19 test.
Colorado on Tuesday recorded more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period, according to a news release issued by Gov. Jared Polis’ office. The positivity rate in Colorado was above 5%, meaning New Mexico’s quarantine order applies to Colorado residents.
Regional impactThe new restrictions are a part of a pattern of statewide decisions that do not consider the intertwined economic fates of the Four Corners, said Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett.
“Frankly, it just ignores the regional economic component that is the Four Corners area,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the governor fails to understand that it’s safer for us to drive 45 minutes north into Colorado than it is to drive seven hours south into Las Cruces, which is having increased numbers every day.”
When the state shut down in the spring, Duckett said the governor failed to adequately incorporate or inform local elected officials of her decisions. The governor responded to the criticism and convened a mayor’s council. Duckett said the council is made up of mayors from across the state and has met almost weekly with Lujan Grisham’s chief of staff since June.
However, Duckett said the city of Farmington did not receive a warning before the Lujan Grisham’s Tuesday announcement, further frustrating local leaders about the lack of a regional approach, especially after northwest New Mexico was forced to reopen slower than the rest of the state in the spring because of high COVID-19 rates. Duckett said northwest New Mexico has lower rates than the rest of the state and should be treated accordingly.
As of Thursday, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, San Juan County had a positivity rate of 4.6% and eight cases per 100,000 residents. San Juan County has had 3,536 total cases and 202 people who have died from COVID-19.
“The things I’m most concerned about are hospitalizations and deaths, and those numbers have remained low and under control,” Duckett said.
On Thursday, the state reported 672 new cases, setting a new daily record.
Jamie Church, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, echoed Duckett’s concerns about the economic impact of the new orders.
“We have businesses that are feeling the effects because they are dependent on Colorado, and likewise in Colorado,” Church said. “We are very much a regional economy. The restrictions and the quarantine rules do hinder that as well as create confusion when you live so close to the state line.”
Duckett said the new restrictions will only further hurt people’s finances.
“The product of poverty is higher rates of substance abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, suicide, mental health issues and dropout rates in schools,” Duckett said. “When you see the number of individuals who are passing away from the virus stay low and the number of hospitalizations stay low, but we’re gonna ramp up restrictions again, I think a lot of people feel like we are losing sight of what’s going on.”
The New Mexico Department of Health and the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
At a news conference Thursday, Lujan Grisham and state officials provided an update about the COVID-19 outlook in New Mexico. Among the points made included:
Two of three hospitals in Albuquerque are at maximum capacity in the ICU.Human Services Secretary David Scrase said cases could be reduced by up to 50% if there was 100% mask compliance.Enforcement efforts around public health orders will increase.Hospitalizations in the state increased by 74% in October.922 New Mexicans have died from COVID-19.Lujan Grisham asked New Mexicans to stay home for a couple days, if possible, to slow the spread of the virus.