New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced at a livestream event held Thursday (July 30) that the state's existing emergency public health order, put in place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, will extend into August.
That means indoor dining at restaurants is still prohibited but outdoor service and patio dining is allowed as long as tables are six feet apart and everyone wears masks except when eating. Wineries and distilleries also are now classified the same as food establishments, and may offer outdoor patio service.
The order may be revised as conditions surrounding the number of coronavirus cases in the state change.
"The emergency public health order retains the state's public health prohibition on mass gatherings and keeps in place temporary indoor occupancy restrictions for certain businesses, particularly indoor 'close contact' businesses such as restaurants and gyms," reads a press release that followed the governor's announcement.
Face coverings must still be worn in public and businesses must require customers to do the same.
Individuals traveling into New Mexico are also still required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, a rule, the governor noted, that has been ignored by some people arriving in the state.
Grisham said she is also in favor of extending special unemployment benefits that have been provided to people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Congressional hearings on the matter have been divisive. Some business owners have said they are unable to find sufficient workers because current unemployment pay outpaces the wages they are able to offer.
New Mexico is offering a total of $600 million in low-interest loans to small businesses trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.
The state gained an additional 255 cases of the virus on Thursday, for a total of 20,388 to date, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. One-hundred fifty-six people have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease that can develop from the virus, and 33 are on ventilators. Taos had two new cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 91.
"The statewide rolling 7-day average continues to press the bounds of its highest point since the outset of the pandemic, having increased 41 percent since July 1," reads a press release from the Governor's office. "The state's rate of spread – expressed as an r-effective, signifying the average number of subsequent infections one infection will reproduce - remains above 1, meaning cases will continue to grow ..."
New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said at Thursday's press conference that mortality rates due to the virus are also on the rise. A total of 635 people have died from COVID-19 to date in New Mexico. Twenty-five deaths have already been reported this week alone.
“We’re still not where we need to be as a state, but we are seeing some hopeful signs of stabilization,” said Scrase. “Unfortunately, stabilizing at a high level of daily case counts will result in sustained pressure on state resources, will result in too many illnesses and too much risk. We’ve got to stay the course and drive down the spread of infection in our state. We all know the steps we can take to do that: Stay home, avoid groups of people, wear a mask, keep six feet apart from others and wash your hands frequently. Every New Mexico life is important; every single one. That’s why we’re all fighting so hard.”
The state environment department is also conducting an increasing number of "rapid responses" at businesses that have reported cases of the virus. The responses typically involve a temporary pause in business operations, but the state offers expertise and assistance in employee testing and disinfecting establishments to ensure safe re-openings.From the week of July 20-26, a total of 215 rapid responses were performed, and 185 the week before that.
Businesses can report cases and receive assistance by calling (505) 476-8700.
Grisham said the state is continuing to increase its testing capacity for the virus and is seeing a reduced positivity rate, the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of those overall who have been tested.