Wednesday was a red-letter day for dining, tourism and hospitality in New Mexico.

Well, make that yellow-letter day.

With many areas of the state, including Santa Fe County, emerging from COVID-19 red status and moving to the less restrictive yellow, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Department of Health lifted the 14-day quarantine on out-of-state visitors and New Mexicans returning home, plus allowed indoor dining in the state’s largest cities for the first time since mid-November.

Those two items would’ve been enough to cause celebration in tourism-dependent Santa Fe, but there was a third bit of good news: limits on hotel occupancy are increasing from 40 percent occupancy to 60 percent.

The 14-day quarantine had been in place since July 1 and had wreaked havoc on the tourism sector. Plenty of visitors drifted into Santa Fe and ignored the edict, but many more canceled reservations or didn’t make plans for Santa Fe at all.

“The quarantine was the big, big thing,” said Jeff Mahan, president of the Santa Fe Lodgers Association. “This has been a battle. We are survivors.”

Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall said the effect of dropping the quarantine might be seen almost immediately.

La Fonda on the Plaza has 40 percent of its rooms booked for this weekend’s Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and Chinese New Year.

“We’re going to try to hit 60 percent,” La Fonda general manager Rik Blyth said. “This [past] weekend was the first time since Christmas that we hit the maximum 40 percent.”

For many in the hotel industry, relief couldn’t come soon enough. El Rey Court, a popular spot for tourists outside downtown, had not hit 40 percent since New Year’s weekend, general manager Sarah Bolen said.

“I think it’s going to be a lot easier to hit 60 percent now,” she said. “That 14-day quarantine is keeping a lot of people from coming.”

Indoor dining at restaurants also is a milestone for New Mexico, but there may not be a mad rush for all Santa Fe restaurants to open at 25 percent capacity. Some say they are worried about committing to a new plan with the possibility the county could return to red status.

“I don’t think we’re going to open inside,” said Dago Melara, general manager at Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill. “It doesn’t make sense for us to open with only three or four tables.”

Another restaurant, Pho Ava, has been doing OK with takeout offerings, co-owner Tommy Nguyen said. But a chance to open for indoor dining was welcomed.

“That’s big,” he said of a return to indoor dining. “That’s big news. It’s hard [without indoor dining].”

Though many in the industry writhed under the limits on indoor dining, some found a way to make it work. Ten Thousand Waves has kept its Izanami restaurant open throughout the pandemic with outdoor tents in summer and a sturdier pavilion once winter set in, company president Duke Klauck said.

“It’s surprisingly toasty,” he said. “We have been very busy. People started realizing this isn’t bad.”

Izanami has eight tables outdoors, providing seating for 30 to 35. Indoor dining should return by the weekend.

“We’ll do it,” Klauck said. “There are people that don’t have the spirit [to eat in the pavilion]. That will give us another 20 to 25 seats. That’s certainly worth doing.”

A popular downtown restaurant, Cowgirl BBQ, closed in mid-November with plans to reopen March 1. That target will stay in place.

“We are staying closed until March 1,” Cowgirl co-owner, president and chef Patrick Lambert said. “The reason we are not opening right way is because we are restructuring many things for COVID.”

Dolina Cafe & Bakery is opening Thursday with three or four tables inside.

“I am just personally super excited to see people sit down in a real place with silverware,” said owner Annamaria Brezna.

(22) comments

mark Coble

Your freedom is dangerous! The nerve of NOT wearing a mask at all times, shame. We must restrict all freedoms if everyone is to be 100% safe ALL the time, EVERYWHERE. So please stay in your cell, errr...home. Don't freely assemble, don't go to church and don't forget to wear your mask at home, in the car, in the shower, everywhere because, you know, obey the STATE. Your freedom is not important, the health of the masses is much more important. It is all temporary just like TSA, etc.

Diad Wheeler

I TRULY DO NOT UNDERSTAND: Why is having a beer with your buddies, unmasked, so IMPORTANT? Maybe they have no other life. Making a sacrifice - while tedious and very annoying given the year-long timeframe of this- is a blip in our lifespans. Find something else to give you enjoyment other than spreading a virus. Be a part of a SOCIETY, not a selfish individual.

Mary Jane

And the schools are, and will still be, closed. The Covid rates will increase and then we'll hear, oh, we need to be very careful, don't open the schools until everyone--even the kids!-- are all vaccinated, because we're SOOOO very concerned about the (local) children spreading the virus to their teachers. Throw open the doors to tourists while most of New Mexico's kids will have to wait until 2022 to see the inside of a classroom, if they're lucky.

Enjoy your enchilada platter.

Stefanie Beninato

I fear indoor dining will make the rates soar. You will see how close the seats are to each other. How long people will be at a table without a mask. Even the outdoor dining was somewhat of a joke. The outdoor space was completely enclosed with heavy plastic--yes customers and waitpeople coming and going allowed some ventilation but most did not even have one side open--no wonder they were "toasty".

Andrew Lucero

I’m cautiously optimistic about this… All politics aside, we are still a long way from getting everyone vaccinated and developing herd immunity. Thankfully, the new strains haven’t established a foothold here yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t. But if they do, we will be back in the red in no time.

Paul Davis

Levels are still substantially above where they were in October, before the explosion in cases and deaths that peaked around November 23rd. We saw how the situation could rapidly and massively deteriorate even from such low levels.

Please, please, please remember that at this point we are still very very far from herd immunity. The overwhelming majority of New Mexicans (and Americans, and even humans around the planet) have not yet been infected by COVID19 nor received a vaccine. The potential for this to go downhill rapidly again is still out there, and acting as if we've "turned the corner" will only make it more likely that this happens.

Donato Velasco

are we going to get a new wave after the super bowl ?????

Jose Garcia

CDC says The criteria: They must be fully vaccinated -- having had both shots with at least two weeks having passed since the second shot. That's because it takes two weeks to build full immunity after the second dose of vaccine.

But the CDC says it's not known how long protection lasts, so people who had their last shot three months ago or more should still quarantine if exposed. This is jumbled mess still. Who knows what’s going on with anything anymore.

Arlene D.Kock

Enjoy the Covid19 and it’s new variants surge....

Donato Velasco

with the new higher prices to make up for their losses they will not have people lining up .. they found out how much money they had extra so its going to be a slow return if any to the glory days..

Joni Boulware

I think it is time to cautiously reopen. There are so many who have had COVID 19 already or who have been immunized that the New York Times quoted a Doctor who indicated herd we may be seeing some benefit of herd immunity.

Robert Kowalski

And all after Biden was sworn in. How convenient.

Lucille Armijo

I guess you’ve failed to notice the drastic drop in COVID cases in the state. How convenient.

Donato Velasco

its a miracle god helped him with this..

William Huntsman

Don't hold your breath, MLG is still in power, How she got elected is beyond me.

Margaret Eyler


Paul Davis

It seems that she got more votes than any other candidate. Quite mysterious!

Bonnie Cox


John Cook

What a surprise. It turns out good government helps.

Amy Earle

All I can say is I hope this doesn’t all turn into a premature move and mistake. The UK and other European countries thought they were out of the woods too and then the variants took hold and proved to them they weren’t. Our vaccine rollout hasn’t exactly been a smashing success. Most New Mexicans remain unvaccinated with no clear idea when they will be. We have no idea how prevalent the variants are in NM, but what the hey why not throw caution to the wind and eat, drink, and be merry.

Stefanie Beninato


Irene Edwards

Aaannnnd, they’re off!

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