In a live online news conference on August 27, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discussed amendments to the state's emergency public health order impacting food and drink establishments as well as houses of worship and a smattering of other changes, reflecting the state’s relative recent progress against COVID-19, and New Mexico’s preparation for a limited re-entry to in-person learning next month.
The state’s previous emergency public health order expired last Friday. The following changes went into effect Saturday, Aug. 29 and will be in place for another two weeks:
- Food and drink establishments - restaurants, breweries, wineries, distillers, cafes, coffee shops - may provide indoor dining service at 25 percent of maximum occupancy, following COVID-Safe Practices.
- Food and drink establishments may continue to provide outdoor dining options, carryout, and delivery services, per COVID-Safe Practices. Tables – inside or outside – must be spaced at least six feet apart, and no more than six patrons are permitted at a single table.
- Houses of worship may operate at 40 percent of maximum occupancy of any enclosed building, an increase from 25 percent, following COVID-Safe Practices. Houses of worship may, as before, conduct services outdoors or provide services through audiovisual means.
- While museums with interactive and/or immersive displays, categorized as “close-contact recreational facilities,” must remain closed, museums with static displays may operate at 25 percent capacity.
- Mass gatherings of more than 10 individuals are still prohibited.
The state’s modeling outlook has improved in recent weeks as daily COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have dropped from earlier in the summer; in addition, New Mexico’s testing capacity and health care resources have remained steady.
“I know New Mexicans are ecstatic about our recent progress against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said. “But, given what we know about this virus, we must sound a note of caution: Our progress is only as good as our willingness to stay the course. This virus is still looking for opportunities to spread. We’ve got to adhere to COVID-safe practices in our day-to-day lives to minimize and eliminate those opportunities. Now we must – we absolutely must – sustain it."
She said that before further relaxation of public health restrictions, "we’ve got to get the indoor part right."
In the meantime, preparations for fall semester public schooling continue.
The Public Education Department has set requirements for re-entry to a “hybrid” model of in-person and remote learning – meaning rotating cohorts of students could potentially attend in-person classes in small groups after Labor Day upon approval from the PED.
Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said at the news conference that comprehensive COVID-19 safety and response protocols must be established before any district or charter can be approved to begin limited in-person learning for K-5 age groups after Labor Day.
“Our work has been to coordinate closely with school districts and local leaders to make sure we have strict and effective protocols to prevent positive cases and to make sure we can quickly respond to any positive cases that do occur,” Stewart said.
He said that in the interim before Labor Day PED will continue to review re-entry proposals before formally approving districts seeking to begin classes for the K-5 age groups in a hybrid model.
"Middle school and high school age groups would follow in a similar fashion if and when health conditions warrant," Stewart said.
Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said although the overall COVID-19 infections in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups remain higher than other age categories, the state’s decreasing and steadying test positivity rate, average case counts and hospitalizations reflect gave added credence to important COVID-safe behaviors like consistent mask-wearing and avoiding groups and extended periods of contact with others.
“COVID-19 can cause very, very serious illness in people of all ages, and we’ve got to take that seriously in all aspects of our lives,” Scrase said.
New Mexico’s gating criteria – a measurement of the public health data reflecting the incidence and spread of COVID-19 – show the state has seen success in suppressing the virus while also maintaining essential virus-response and health care resources over the course of the late summer.
Lujan Grisham said her hope is that New Mexicans will recognize that their commitment to stemming the spread of the coronavirus has begun to pay off.
“New Mexicans ought to be very proud of the progress we’ve made all together, but we’ve got to remember progress in our fight against this virus does not mean we can let our guard down," Lujan Grisham said. "This means wearing masks, avoiding groups, keeping physical distance and regularly washing our hands. At the end of the day, I can’t make New Mexicans stick to these safeguards. We’ve all got to make those decisions ourselves every day – and remember that our actions impact our friends, our families, workers and businesses in our communities and our entire state.”
The amended emergency public health order will be effective through September 18.