Locals mostly wearing masks


May 20, 2020

Saturday became the first day when all New Mexico residents were required to wear protective masks in public to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

For the most part, it appeared locals in Tucumcari had heard and accepted Wednesday’s message from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her amended public health order that took effect that day.

During a one-hour period Saturday morning at the Lowe’s Market in Tucumcari, a 46 of 62 shoppers were observed exiting the grocery wearing masks, or nearly three-fourths of the total.

That compares to less than one-fifth of shoppers seen wearing masks at the store during a one-hour period in late April.

Saturday’s new emergency order requires everyone to cover their faces in public with exceptions for eating, drinking, exercising and those with health problems that preclude mask use.

“I know this is not popular, but seat belts, child safety seats and airbags weren’t popular either when they were first adopted, and we know they save lives,” Lujan Grisham said. “Please: Wear a mask. It’s compassionate. It protects others, including frontline workers of all types, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude. Let’s protect them and each other and our families.”

Health Services Secretary Richard Scrase cited a recent Arizona State University study from New York pandemic data that found if 80% of people wore a mask, it would reduce COVID-19 deaths by 17% to 45% over two months.

ASU’s researchers stated “very weak masks” that are 20% effective even help block the virus.

“It’s not a guarantee against the virus, but it really helps slow the spread, and that’s why we’re mandating it,” the governor said.

The New Mexico Department of Health recommended the use of masks beginning in early April. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended the use of cloth face coverings since mid-April. The CDC stated on its website new data found a significant number of people infected with coronavirus lack symptoms and can transmit it others, hence its recent recommendation to wear masks.

Lujan Grisham in earlier health briefings had been reluctant to impose a mask mandate, saying enforcement would be challenging.

On Friday, Lujan Grisham said she did not expect state police officers to issue citations to New Mexicans who didn’t wear masks in public. She said she wanted to use positive reinforcement and even “stern reminders” to would-be violators.

She said tough measures for lack of mask usage would be impractical and strain first responders. She added a lack of enforcement is “not an invitation” to flout the order.

The governor also said businesses that didn’t adhere to COVID-safe practices, including mask usage, would be cited for violating the health order.

Ann Hall, a chairwoman of the Republican Party of Quay County, said in a phone interview Friday she heard from an attorney the possible penalty for not wearing a mask is a $100 fine or six months in jail.

Hall said she would recommend that residents adhere to the mask mandate, but with reluctance because of past experiences.

“If we have to abide by the law, we have to abide by the law,” she said. “We have to do what’s in the Bible; we should follow whatever the laws are. It specifically states that. In my Christian belief, you do what the law says.”

She said she once wore N95 masks a few years ago to combat dust and ease her allergies. It didn’t go well.

“I couldn’t wear the thing,” Hall said. “I put up with the dust and stuff because I couldn’t handle the mask. I was having problems breathing with it. I was constantly pulling it away from my face so I could breathe and get oxygen.”


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