As of Tuesday morning, much of the activity in New Mexico’s 121,000 square miles will grind to a halt.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, beseeching state residents to do more to stop the spread of the coronavirus, announced new restrictions Monday that will close down all but essential services in New Mexico, as the number of cases around the state and nation continues to grow.
New Mexico, she said, now has 83 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in 11 of the state’s 33 counties. Of those, nine are being treated in hospitals, including an Arizona resident who visited the state.
Officials at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center said it is not treating any patients now. Presbyterian Healthcare Services has two patients in its hospital system, officials said, but they did specify whether either of the patients were being treated at the Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center.
Of the 18 new cases reported Monday, two were in Santa Fe County: a man in his 20s and a woman in her 60s. That brings the total number of Santa Fe County cases to a dozen.
The governor’s new action, which runs through April 10, basically extended an order she gave last week to limit socializing and close some nonessential businesses such as gyms and casinos. It also limited restaurant service to takeout or delivery.
On Tuesday morning, many more storefronts will have a “closed” sign on the window.
“Basic retail is no longer available in the state of New Mexico,” she said.
“This is an instruction to stay home,” she added, equating her new order to shelter-in-place mandates implemented in other states to have people self-isolate and, it’s hoped, reduce the spread of the virus.
Health experts and political leaders have said the key to stopping the virus from infecting more residents is for people to work at home, gather only in small clusters — now, no more than five — and refrain from touching others.
Washing hands often for at least 20 seconds is also recommended.
The governor said too many people are not adhering to a previous order asking them to limit social interaction, work at home and gather in groups of no more than 10 people. “I need you to heed this order,” she said.
The new order exempts from closure businesses that provide services related to “health, safety and well-being,” such as medical facilities, child care centers and any business that assists in the production, distribution or sale of food and medical products.
The governor also issued a “stay-at-home instruction” Monday. Right now, public schools in the state are in the second week of a three-week closure initiated nearly two weeks ago following the news that several residents of the state had tested positive for COVID-19. Schools were planning to reopen April 6.
That date, the governor suggested, is in limbo. She said she has a “high degree of confidence that schools will be closed after that” because of “the reality of the situation we are in.”
She said she is working with the federal government to find out what sort of waivers and requirements the state needs to keep instructing children while schools are closed.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health said it will continue to expand testing sites throughout New Mexico and provide updates online at cv.nmhealth.org.
State and hospital officials say there are enough protective masks and gloves — and other such equipment — to deal with the health threat right now. Department of Health spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter said in an email the state is “aggressively ordering [such supplies] daily. We are evaluating and prioritizing supplies for hospital workers, first responders and where they’re needed most.”
But she added the state is only receiving about 25 percent of its requested emergency protection gear — masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment — from the federal government.
During the news conference, the governor said the state is “OK today” with the amount of those supplies, but if it does not get more supplies “that could change.”
She said since the federal government is taking so long to provide those resources, the state is trying to work with private providers, some of whom are engaging in price-gouging, to get the necessary equipment.
Lujan Grisham said she hopes New Mexico receives “hundreds of thousands [of protective gear items] but until it’s in my hot little hands, I will not stop asking” for it.
Representatives of Christus St. Vincent and Presbyterian Healthcare Services said they currently have enough protective gear for their employees, many of whom are tending to those with the virus.
Chad Smelser, the deputy state epidemiologist, said the state continues to work with hospitals to set up a plan to “expand our health care system and enhance” testing, treatment and coverage of the respiratory virus.
Gov. gives update on NM coronavirus responseGov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is scheduled to speak at 3 p.m. from the capitol. Note that these events often start late.
The governor’s new order does leave doors to some businesses open: grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, health care centers, homeless shelters, media services, banks, gas stations, auto repair shops, funeral homes and real estate services can still operate in New Mexico.
But up and down New Mexico’s Main Streets, it’s a dark time. Retail stores will shutter. Places like barbershops and dog-grooming businesses must close, as must many nonprofits.
While the state Supreme Court does not have to follow the governor’s mandate in conducting court business, it issued a notice Monday that it will limit the number of people in courtrooms to 15 and require judges to conduct audio and video teleconferences for civil and criminal proceedings, “except when an emergency requires in-person appearances.”
It’s not clear how the state will keep an eye on whether businesses and people adhere to the new rule. The governor said she did not expect police officers to knock on the doors of businesses that shouldn’t be open or keep track of whether there are five or six people walking in a group in a park.
But she said the state can impose penalties on any business or nonprofit that violates the law and said the state will set up a hotline for people to report possible violations.
So far, no one has died of a coronavirus infection in New Mexico. Nearly 6,000 residents have been tested for it, and all but 83 came back negative.