Serving the High Plains

Effective Monday: In-person dining halted, mask restrictions tightened

Fall contact sports now on hold, non-contact sports being discussed.

SANTA FE -- Citing continued upward trends on New Mexico positive COVID-19 cases, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham rolled back indoor restaurant dining and tightened restrictions on face coverings in public places, and noted fall contact sports at schools would be on hold.

A public health order, effective Monday, will limit restaurant service back to take-out with outdoor patio dining to 50% of capacity. The changes were announced Thursday via a press conference on the governor’s Facebook page.

The state reported 14,251 positive COVID-19 cases, with 238 new cases reported Thursday. There have been 533 deaths, with six reported Thursday.

“Given the rate of increase we are seeing in the state today,” Lujan-Grisham said, “at this rate, we would have 639 new deaths potentially in the next five weeks.”

The state is currently at a spread rate of 1.16, meaning 100 COVID-positive people infect 116 others, and those 116 infect another 135 people, etc. The state’s goal for spread rate is 1.05 or lower.

The southeastern region, which includes Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties, is at 1.22, second-lowest in the state to the northwest area (0.72).

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the number of new daily cases has risen 79% in 16 days, from 111 to 199 and “representative of the pandemic being out of control.” He said part of the reason for the spread is residents confusing a careful reopening with a return to normal activities.

Additionally, he said, the state is seeing increased infections in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups. The under-20 percentage of cases is at 13.7%, up from 13.4% last week.

A “zero-tolerance” policy on masks will now apply inside gyms at all times. The current public health orders allow exceptions to face coverings for people who are eating, drinking or exercising, and Lujan Grisham said tightening restrictions was the only way to get back on track.

When asked why gyms aren’t being closed again while restaurants are, Lujan Grisham noted gyms haven’t shown themselves to be trouble spots because fewer people are going and the ones who do socially distance and practice sanitary procedures.

“Nobody thinks restaurants are bad actors,” Lujan Grisham said, “but they’re not environments that help reduce spread.”

The governor noted the need to reverse the infection trends to give kids the best chance to attend school first in a hybrid model and later in-person five days per week.

For now, fall contact sports are at best delayed. The presentation specified football and soccer, and noted other fall sports were still being discussed and would likely see delays. Regarding college and professional sports, Lujan Grisham said the state is working with the New Mexico United soccer club and that colleges will adhere to guidelines of their respective conferences. However, she does not envision spectators until a vaccine is available.

Regarding law enforcement agencies not taking action on face coverings, Lujan Grisham said she would continue to implore those agencies to pitch in with help from the attorney general’s office. She wished enforcement wasn’t necessary but if she were president, there would be a national mask mandate.

She likened the use of face coverings during the pandemic to a decade-long period of citations for seat belts and car seats helping lower traffic fatalities, but countered, “I don’t have a decade to get Americans and New Mexicans comfortable wearing masks.”

The governor said people are spreading the virus and not businesses, and that people shouldn’t direct their anger towards employees who are simply enforcing public health orders. The anger, she said, should go to her.

“I asked to be governor,” Lujan Grisham said. “I’m proud to be governor. I can take it … outside of hate speech and physical and personal threats.”

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