SANTA FE, N.M. — People are being asked to stay home and gyms, salons, golf courses and other nonessential businesses will have to close for two weeks under public health restrictions reimposed Friday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Democratic governor said the state is at a breaking point and that a two-week pause will give an opportunity to blunt the virus.
“We are in a life-or-death situation, and if we don’t act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we can’t keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current health care system and infrastructure,” she said.
The emergency measures to rein in surging rates of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths across New Mexico - which are also soaring nationwide - will take effect Monday and run through Thanksgiving. Existing mandates already limited hours for certain businesses, prohibited gatherings of more than five people and required face coverings in public. Those are included in the new order.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, day cares, gas stations and other essential businesses can still operate but are being told to minimize operations and in-person staffing to the greatest extent possible. Restaurants may provide curbside pickup and delivery services, but on-site dining is prohibited.
Rising daily rates of COVID-19 also have derailed attempts at in-person schooling and could delay the next legislative session.
Lawmakers are sparring over whether to delay a session that traditionally starts in mid-January, potentially deferring Democratic initiatives on cannabis, abortion rights and education funding.
Lujan Grisham encouraged lawmakers to think about how they can meet their constitutional requirements but delay the vast majority of the legislative work since health risks will prohibit the public from fully participating in the the process. However, she plans to call for a virtual special session soon to consider measures that would free up more resources to address the pandemic.
New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest daily count of confirmed cases and one of the highest daily death counts since the pandemic began. Health officials are reporting uncontrollable spread, noting that the rate of positive tests has surpassed 12% and the number of hospitalizations has risen more than 200% over the last month.
Legislative leaders are weighing whether to soldier on with the session in January by moving committee meetings to a spacious convention center to allow greater social distancing and accommodate public participation.
But some would prefer a delay in response to surging infections statewide. Republican House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia advocated for a delay until spring in hopes of greater public participation then.
“If New Mexicans are being told to skip Thanksgiving and Christmas with family members because of the risk, then we can surely delay the session,” Townsend said in the statement Thursday.
Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said it is crucial for the Legislature to meet on time about pandemic relief efforts and that arrangements are being made for meaningful public input.
As part of reimposing the health restrictions, the state has developed a tiered county-by-county system that will be used to establish benchmarks for reopening when the public health order expires Nov. 30. The governor said the system will provide some flexibility for counties as they are able to drive down infection rates and prevent community outbreaks.
State health officials have been trying to boost New Mexico’s testing capacity as a way to identify cases and curb spread, but Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said Friday that the state would have to more than double the number of tests being done daily to about 26,000 if it wanted to keep up. More than 1.3 million tests have been done since the start of the pandemic.
In Santa Fe, Tony Gerlicz lined up Thursday to get a test before he and his wife visit their grandchildren in California around Thanksgiving. The line stretched about 200 cars, snaking up and down tight residential streets.
Gerlicz said the entire family is getting tests this week because “we want to put their minds at ease and ours as well.”
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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