After several weeks’ worth of the state’s lockdown order, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in agreement with New Mexico Department of Health officials, has lifted some restrictions for retailers and other businesses. As of last Saturday, the emergency public health order, which is now scheduled to expire at the end of May, has been modified to allow most retailers to return to some degree of normalcy.
That is, to operate at 25 percent of occupancy as determined by fire codes.
Along with the reopening order announced last week, other public health emergency changes include the requirement that all persons wear face coverings while in public places. This is in addition to the existing order requiring retail workers to wear masks.
Exceptions to the face-covering rule include eating, drinking, exercising and medical requirements.
While established COVID-Safe Practices - the prohibiting of gatherings more than five people and social distancing of six feet - remain in effect, other changes include:
• Previously categorized as non-essential businesses (such as office spaces) generally may operate at up to 25 percent of pre-crisis staffing levels.
• Houses of worship may operate at 10 percent occupancy.
• Additional state parks and certain outdoor recreation guides with COVID-Safe Practices.
• Summer youth programs will be allowed with modifications, limits and additional requirements, including daily temperature checks and enhanced cleaning. In-person summer programs and sports camps will be restricted to 5:1 child to adult ratios, and activities must maintain six-foot distancing between participants.
Otherwise, large retailers like big-box stores and grocery stores will continue operating at 20 percent capacity. Important practices, retail and other establishments must adhere to include frequent cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, signage to communicate occupancy limits, adherence to maximum occupancy limits per the state emergency public health order, and establishing protocols to allow for contact-less pickup and home delivery wherever possible, among others.
Previous statewide restrictions that remain unchanged:
• Entertainment venues such as movie theaters, concert halls, and amusement parks remain closed.
• People must remain home except for outings essential for health, safety and welfare, especially elderly and vulnerable individuals. If you must leave home, gatherings of more than five people remain prohibited, and six feet of physical distance from others must be maintained.
• Locations and services where high-intensity contact is unavoidable – such as gyms, salons and dine-in service at restaurants and bars – will remain temporarily closed. Limited in-person operations for those types of businesses could be included in the next modification of the public health order, as soon as early June, depending on New Mexico’s rate of COVID-19 transmission, testing capacity and other gating criteria.
• Other high-intensity contact services that must remain closed include indoor malls, massage and tattoo parlors, theaters, casinos.
• 14-day quarantine order remains in place for out-of-state airport arrivals.
• Vacation rentals prohibited to out-of-state residents.
• Visits to long-term care and other congregate care facilities remain restricted.
The state says the changes are part of New Mexico's phased plan for a safe and gradual reopening based on gating criteria - rolling seven-day averages - that show a generally decreasing transmission rate, adequate testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity, and proper supply of personal protective equipment.
Lujan Grisham emphasized the necessity to act in accordance with medical and scientific data.
“We’re going to demand the science guide every decision we make, and we believe, based on gating criteria, we can have slight reopenings, but it’s not an invitation to go out and about and ignore our public health requirements,” Lujan Grisham said. “The virus decides when and how much we reopen, and our behavior will determine how well we control its spread.”
Although New Mexico has seen a continued statewide spread of the highly contagious virus, the overall transmission rate of the illness continues to edge downward.
Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the Human Services Department, said last week that lowering the curve of infections depends on the public.
“At the end of the day, it’s all driven by what we do as New Mexicans,” Scrase said. “If we stay home, wash hands, cough into our elbows, and wear face masks, we'll continue to meet our gating criteria goals and continue to reopen the economy."
Lujan Grisham said as the state opens up and the risks of infection increases, the wearing of face coverings will contribute to keeping the gating criteria down,
“It’s not a guarantee against the virus,” she said. “But it really helps slow the spread, and that’s why we’re mandating it.”
She said assuming transmission rates are lowering, higher-intensity contact could be phased in when the new order expires.
That might include partially reopening salons, barbers, gyms, indoor malls, and dine-in at restaurants with limited occupancy and COVID-safe practices in place. Additionally, occupancy restrictions on houses of worship, motels, and hotels could possibly expand in early June.
Three counties – McKinley, San Juan and Cibola – are exempt from the new order but will be allowed to move into the preparation phase that began two weeks ago for the rest of the state.
“That means that in those counties, non-essential retailers may provide curbside pickup or delivery; golf courses, pet and veterinary services may open; and gun stores may operate by appointment,” she said. “However, the order to stay home except for essential outings remains in place.”