Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and nearly all of New Mexico’s congressional delegates wrote an open letter Friday urging the business community to require private-sector employees to get vaccinated or submit to regular coronavirus tests.
More than two dozen elected officials signed the letter, which comes amid another surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that many fear could jeopardize the state’s economic recovery.
“In short, the pandemic is not over,” the letter said. Although economic activity has picked up after the state lifted its COVID-19 restrictions earlier this summer, “this momentum … is not guaranteed; we must protect it and work to create an environment where consumers and workers feel safe.”
The legality of mandating employees to get vaccinated has been a thorny issue across the U.S. Yet Genesis HealthCare, the country’s largest nursing home chain, announced this week it would require its workers to get the coronavirus vaccine. The University of New Mexico and state government also have implemented vaccination mandates. State workers who are not vaccinated must undergo regular coronavirus testing.
Friday’s letter from many of New Mexico’s top political leaders encouraged private businesses to do the same.
“Vaccine resistance — often fueled by misinformation and propaganda — stands in the way,” the letter said. “We need to finish the job. And we need your help.”
In an interview, Bridget Dixon, president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said more businesses should encourage their employees to get inoculated.
“We’re not going to be able to begin that recovery process until we get people back at work, and that means them feeling confident in [returning to] work by being vaccinated so they’re not afraid to be helping customers as they’re walking in the door,” Dixon said.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a few exceptions where people may have some sort of immune disorder where they can’t get vaccinated. But overall, they do need to be vaccinated,” she added.
Pat Block, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Retail Association, said: “Many of our members are doing similar things to what the state has done. Our members are providing cash incentives to their workers. They’re providing paid time off to be vaccinated. … So our members are doing many things to incentivize and encourage as wide a vaccination program within the workforce as possible.”
The state has offered $100 cash payments to people who receive vaccinations in two rounds of an incentive program aimed at boosting numbers of inoculated residents. It also created a lottery sweepstakes with a total of $10 million in prizes, with 20 vaccinated residents winning $250,000 each since late June. On Saturday, the state will hold a final drawing for a $5 million grand prize.
According to the state Department of Health, 65.3 percent of eligible New Mexicans are fully vaccinated, including nearly 40 percent of the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have yet to be approved for children under 12.
In recent weeks, demand for the vaccines had begun to level off, prompting new cases to rise, particularly among the unvaccinated. In the past six months, more than 90 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have been among people who were not vaccinated. In the past month, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico has more than doubled, according to Health Department data.
Until more businesses implement vaccination policies, the virus will continue to spread, elected officials said in their open letter.
“We expect these sorts of requirements to become significantly more commonplace in the coming weeks as governments and businesses recognize the severe and imminent economic risk of continued vaccine resistance,” the letter said. “A willingness on the part of private sector leaders to take the initiative here in New Mexico will keep your workforce safer, boost consumer confidence and help guarantee that our steady economic progress is not needlessly endangered or reversed.”