Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham rolls back reopening, limits fall sports
Governor says 'we must do better as a state' in slowing spread of COVID-19
This story was updated at 6:02 p.m.
SANTA FE - Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday that under amended public health orders pertaining to COVID-19, indoor seating at restaurants and breweries would again be restricted, effective Monday.
Patio and outdoor seating is permitted to continue at 50 percent maximum legal occupancy with "COVID-safe practices," and restaurants may continue with carry-out and delivery services. Breweries may continue to provide curbside pickup service as well.
It was a step backward in the process of reopening businesses, with the governor and health officials finding that resuming too much normal activity too soon, particularly in younger adults, had sent the state in the wrong direction.
State parks will close to out-of-state residents, and visitors would need to show proof of residency to visit. All camping at state parks remains prohibited, with state parks open for day-use only.
The governor did not rule out rolling back reopening further if conditions drifted further from reopening criteria, and held out the possibility of more rapid adjustments to business restrictions.
The governor also announced a delay to some high school sports in the fall, along with prohibitions against contact sports such as football and soccer.
She warned that the "hybrid" plan for reopening schools at half capacity per day may be endangered if the spread of COVID-19 does not recede.
She held out the possibility that fall sports might not happen this year, if schools are unable to reopen. In any event, she announced no contact sports — such as football or soccer — will be permitted in the fall, while non-contact sports are under review and may need to begin their seasons late.
The overriding theme of the conference was an appeal to New Mexicans to modify their behaviors for the sake of public health, and to adopt "a zero-tolerance policy for risks and risky behavior," and to stay home as much as possible while wearing masks for essential outings, avoiding social gatherings and frequently washing hands.
238 new cases confirmed Thursday
Lujan Grisham opened the briefing with an update on cases statewide and said the trends "are going in the wrong direction."
Given the state's data, at this rate New Mexico would have 639 potential new deaths in next five weeks.
The state Department of Health announced 238 new positive tests for COVID-19, bringing the total to 14,251 positive results out of 395,881 tests administered statewide.
There were 154 hospitalized in New Mexico Thursday, with 32 on ventilators.
The DOH also announced six new deaths, bringing the total death toll in New Mexico to 533.
Lujan Grisham noted that two of the latest deaths were of individuals in their 30s, warning that many people "have come to a place where it doesn't feel like you can be really sick and you could lose your life if you're in that younger age group category — and it's just not true."
Data showed that 45 percent of the 1,736 new cases over the past week were among people aged between 20 and 40.
Lujan Grisham remarked that the state's early progress in slowing community spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus had taken a turn for the worse because many residents had resumed normal activities too soon, and repeatedly called the situation "untenable."
Meanwhile, 6,118 COVID-19 cases have been designated as having recovered by the DOH, comprising 43 percent of the known cases.
Increasing rates of transmission
State Human Services Secretary David Scrase presented data showing that the total number of cases per day increased by 79 percent over 16 days, which he said indicated "the pandemic is out of control."
He also said the state was not on track to reopen businesses or public schools.
Aside from a slight downtown in the northwestern corner of the state, transmission was shown increasing statewide, with Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties presenting half of the state's new cases over the past week. Scrase also warned that mortality was increasing and that younger age groups were vulnerable, with an 18 percent increase in cases in individuals under the age of 19 over the past week.
"This is a disease that affects all ages," Scrase warned.
As far as the gating criteria used to assess the state's readiness to reopen businesses, Scrase showed that the rate of transmission is far more rapid than the criteria call for, with four out of five regions higher than targets. Scrase also reported that 261 Intensive Care Unit beds were in use, which exceeds the state's baseline capacity, and several counties in the southeastern corner presented alarming daily growth rates over the past week.
Scrase also pointed to alarming conditions in the neighboring states of Arizona and Texas.
In about two weeks, Scrase said supplies of personal protective equipment used by healthcare personnel were expected to be stressed, and said providers were working with the nonprofit Battelle corporation to decontaminate and reuse some gear.
Gov. on protests, law enforcement
Asked about the resistance by some law enforcement agencies to enforce her administration's mandates, such as the face mask requirement, Lujan Grisham noted it taken years to modify behaviors concerning safety features that are now familiar, such as seatbelts in cars.
“I don’t have a decade to get New Mexicans and Americans comfortable with wearing masks,” she said, and predicted that the faster Americans get comfortable with new customs such as wearing masks, the more lives would be saved in this and future pandemics.
“We’re shifting human behaviors not just for COVID-19 but potentially forever,” she said.
Asked about the role of political protests that took place around the state in June in recent spread of COVID-19, Lujan Grisham said that contact tracing data available had not linked new cases to the protests but that this did not change the risks inherent in gathering in groups, even outdoors.
“People should not be doing these protests with COVID-19,” she stated flatly, while also encouraging safe engagement in civic activity in line with public health guidance. While acknowledging the risks of gathering, she praised efforts by many protesters to maintain physical distance and wear masks.
Residents urged to wear face masks
New Mexico Medical Society President Nancy Wright, a pediatrician based in Las Vegas, N.M., endorsed face masks in public, saying that tens of thousands of lives could be saved over the next few months if a majority of Americans wore them whenever out in public.
The governor toughened health orders requiring cloth face coverings in public a week ago, announcing that violators could be fined $100 for failing to wear them in public spaces.
"Physicians ask for behavior change when it's the right thing to do," Wright said, noting changing norms about smoking in public and securing children in cars with seatbelts and car seats. Because "we're still in that time where we don't have great medications and we're still looking for a vaccine," Wright urged New Mexicans to wear a mask over their noses and mouths at all times, and avoid handshakes and other social contact.
"If you care about others, if you care about the suffering of others ... if you care about our economy, if you care about life, then wearing a mask is the right thing to do. Don't do it because the governor tells you to do it ... you really should do it because it's just the right thing to do," she said.