By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

State begins 'reset' of COVID-19 restrictions

 

November 18, 2020



New Mexico on Monday began a two-week “reset” of coronavirus restrictions amid skyrocketing rates of the disease. The curbs recalled those ordered by the governor in March.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday also announced a three-tier, county-by-county system for reopening businesses after the two-week period ends Nov. 30. Based on her description, it’s similar to the school-reopening criteria established weeks ago.

Lujan Grisham cited a tripling in the number of hospitalizations in the past month and a more than doubling in deaths in the last two weeks as among the reasons for imposing the new shelter-in-place order.

“These numbers spell, frankly, disaster for our medical workers,” she said. “We face a life-or-death situation, and we must and will act. … The state is at a breaking point where we can’t keep up.”

Over the two week period:

• Non-essential businesses and nonprofit organizations must cease in-person activities. Non-essential businesses include barbershops, salons, gymnasiums, theaters, casinos, bars, outdoor recreation sites such as golf courses and state parks. The latter would include Ute Lake State Park near Logan and Conchas Lake State Park northwest of Tucumcari.


• Essential businesses can operate at 25% occupancy or 75 customers at once (whichever is smaller) and must reduce their workforce “to the greatest extent possible.” Essential businesses include grocers, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, automobile repair shops, food banks, shelters, child-care facilities and some big-box retail stores. The full list of essential and non-essential businesses is at cv.nmhealth.org.

• Residents are urged to shelter in place except for essential trips that include trips to obtain food and water, emergency medical care, flu shots or a COVID-19 test.

• Churches can operate at 25% maximum occupancy of 75 people at a time, whichever is smaller.

• Restaurants and breweries can operate if they offer curbside pickup or delivery. Outdoor dining is disallowed.

• Lodging establishments that are NM Safe Certified can operate at 25% of occupancy unless they’re used to house healthcare providers or those who need to quarantine. Those without the certification must shut down for the two weeks.

• Residents are urged to stay at home, wear masks in public, wash their hands frequently and not to congregate with non-members of their household. She urged a halt to family get-togethers, parties and funerals because such gatherings in recent weeks have fueled the steep increase in COVID-19 cases. Lujan Grisham said a Thanksgiving meal for her extended family won’t be held because of the risk.


“It’s a terrible blow” for the state’s economy, she said of the new restrictions. “We hate what it does to our business partners. They did not cause this pandemic.”

Lujan Grisham didn’t announce any new restrictions for schools. She said she remained hopeful the two-week “reset” would blunt the outbreak and keep schools open.

Regarding the three-tier reopening criteria after Nov. 30, Luan Grisham said counties that meet Level 1 — low test-positivity rates and low daily COVID-19 case rates — can reopen restricted businesses. Level 2 counties will have some health restrictions remaining. Level 3 counties will continue to have “onerous” restrictions on in-person activity.

The governor said such criteria gives counties more flexibility to reopen their economies when they reduce infection rates and prevent outbreaks.

Lujan Grisham said she was optimistic several counties with historically low COVID-19 numbers, citing De Baca, could reopen their businesses after the two-week period.

The governor also said she would call a New Mexico Legislature special session within days to provide more relief to workers and businesses beleaguered by the pandemic. She criticized the Trump Administration and Congress for their inaction on another federal relief bill.


“The country is in a national emergency unlike we’ve ever seen,” Lujan Grisham said. “There’s not a strategy out of the White House. We have to do it.”

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the seven-day average for coronavirus cases approached the 1,200 mark n more than seven times the gating criteria of 168. The state’s test-positivity rate was 12.19%, above the benchmark of 5%. The spread rate was 1.23, above the benchmark of 1.05. He said contact tracers also were having trouble keeping up with the workload.

Scrase also said the state’s hospitals have only enough staffing for about 180 beds. Hospitalizations from the virus have been well past 400 in recent days.

Reaction

The New Mexico Restaurant Association criticized the two-week shutdown.

"We are obviously devastated by the news today of shutting down all in-person dining,” the organization stated in an email Friday to Albuquerque Business First. “This will ultimately result in the permanent closure of restaurants across the state. We are quite literally begging our legislators, our congressional leadership and the governor to please advocate for a relief bill that will support restaurants and small businesses and their employees."

Yvette Peacock, co-owner of Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, stated the restrictions “have been pretty harsh for our industry” and claimed 1,000 restaurants have gone out of business in New Mexico.

“We agree that people being healthy is a huge priority, but we also feel pretty confident that most all restaurants are far safer than any big-box store,” she wrote. “We hate that we will have to cut hours for our employees, so we hope and pray that our carry-out, curbside and groceries will help us keep everyone getting a paycheck. We plan to increase our grocery items for curbside pickup, beginning Monday. Something to ponder: If our numbers continue to rise in the state, who will they blame next?”

The announcement prompted panic-buying and long lines at some big-box retailers and grocers across the state, much like the first lockdown did in March. Essential businesses are authorized to limit the sale of medications, medical equipment, baby formula, diapers, sanitary care products and hygiene products to three items per person.

Quay County government announced Friday its offices in Tucumcari would restrict access to the courthouse’s north door only, with sheriff’s deputies monitoring. Those entering must wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. Business by telephone is being encouraged, and those with special or critical needs should call ahead to make appointments.

The county commission also canceled its meeting scheduled for Nov. 23. Its next meeting would be Dec. 14.

The city of Tucumcari announced all its facilities would be closed for in-person services from Monday through Nov. 30. Services still would be provided by email or phone. Payments for utility bills still will be accepted online, by phone via credit card or the drop box at city hall.

The New Mexico Supreme Court announced Friday all jury trials would be delayed through the end of the year, though all courts would continue to operate.

 
 

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