With 28 people now testing positive, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new emergency public health order effective Thursday that drastically scales back much of the service industry in New Mexico in an effort to encourage residents to stay at home and limit the transmission of coronavirus.
Lujan Grisham praised many New Mexico residents for adhering to social-distancing guidelines meant to curb the number of COVID-19 infections, but the governor stressed “there are still far too many New Mexicans coming into contact with one another. We take that very seriously.”
Starting Thursday, restaurants, bars, breweries and other establishments that serve food — aside from grocery stores — will be limited to takeout and delivery services only. Meanwhile, hotels will be limited to half their typical capacity.
Lujan Grisham said the state also will enforce these measures with civil or criminal penalties, or license revocations for businesses that do not adhere to the emergency public health rules.
“As I’ve stated before, basic context here is: no social contact,” Lujan Grisham said. “Limit it. Social distancing, social distancing, social distancing. The more you do, the more control we have over COVID-19.”
Against the backdrop of the new restrictions, officials announced five new cases of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total to 28. Bernalillo County has the highest number of cases at 16, while Santa Fe County has five, Sandoval County has four, Socorro County has two and Taos County has one.
There were two people with the virus hospitalized as of Tuesday, officials said. The five people who most recently tested positive were all isolating at home.
Among the new cases is a person in Bernalillo County who contracted COVID-19 despite having no prior travel to affected areas or clear contact with people who had traveled, the governor said.
“That means to us that it was spread in the community,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, deputy state epidemiologist.
The Governor’s Office and Department of Health did not respond to a request for more information about the “community spread” case.
The goal of the emergency order is to prevent a surge in severe COVID-19 cases that could saturate the hospital system, the governor said.
“It has huge economic consequences. It has huge personal consequences,” she said.
“Would I undertake any number of further restrictive policies to keep us safe? Yes, I would,” the governor added. “We are not there mostly because people have been cooperative.”
On Thursday, the following take effect:
u Shopping malls, recreational facilities, health clubs, spas, movie theaters and flea markets will be ordered closed.
u Offices will be asked to limit the number of people not working from home as much as possible.
u Casinos, horse-racing facilities and bars will be closed immediately (excluding casinos on tribal land, which is at the discretion of tribal leaders).
u Hotels, motels and other lodging facilities will be limited to 50 percent capacity. This restriction doesn’t apply to hotels lodging health care workers or businesses providing temporary housing to people employed in New Mexico.
u Restaurants, eateries and breweries will be limited to takeout and delivery services only.
u The state will issue an order to limit the number of basic medical and hygiene products that people can buy at stores in order to “ensure that those supplies are available by limiting hoarding,” the governor said. Those items include over-the-counter-medications, durable medical equipment, baby formula, diapers, sanitary care products and hygiene products. Purchases will be limited to three packaged items per individual.
The order is in effect until April 10 and could be extended.
Places that may remain open include grocery stores, pharmacies, shelters, courthouses, banks, correction and detention facilities, hospitals and other health care facilities and places of worship.
As states across the nation lag behind the world in testing for COVID-19, Lujan Grisham hammered the federal government for what she said is a “huge failing” in making sure enough supplies are available for adequate testing.
The governor stressed that the state is testing as much as possible and working to increase its testing capacity.
The Department of Health will set up six state-run testing sites later this week in Roswell, Las Vegas, Las Cruces and elsewhere. Officials are working to set up a site at a shelter on the west side of Albuquerque, and they may also open one in Taos, Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said.
New Mexico has the ability to run 700 tests for COVID-19 per day, the governor said, which are performed at the state’s lab and TriCore Reference Laboratories in Albuquerque.
Officials are trying to increase that number by using two “large high-capacity machines” that are in the state but haven’t been used for coronavirus testing yet because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not given approval, Lujan Grisham said.
“We’re not quite there. Why aren’t we there? Because the FDA has to approve those machines,” she said. “I’m dissatisfied with the federal response. We’re pushing them.”
TriCore has a molecular diagnostics machine known as COBAS 6800, which could run 1,000 samples in a batch, but the company hasn’t been able to obtain the necessary reagents it needs to use it specifically for COVID-19 tests, the health department said Tuesday.
Testing also has been limited because New Mexico has not received enough personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and gloves for health care workers, as the federal government has withheld those materials in the national stockpile, the governor said.
Lujan Grisham said federal officials have failed to administer the supplies effectively and New Mexico has so far received only 25 percent of its allocation. Still, she said “orders are beginning to come in.”
The governor reiterated comments by hospital officials in recent days urging people to only seek COVID-19 testing if they fall within one of three categories: They’re exhibiting symptoms, they have come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus or they have recently traveled to a high-risk area. Those who don’t display symptoms should self-isolate at home, she said.
There were around 500 coronavirus tests in New Mexico on Wednesday, pushing the total number of reported tests to 2,354.
In Wednesday’s news conference, the governor said offices “should think about having no more than 10 staff on-hand.”
“Frankly, if they can do so, they should go further,” she said.
Thornburg Investment Management, like many businesses across Santa Fe, had already adjusted work conditions.
“We have worked to steadily equip nearly all of our 250 employees to work remotely and for those who need to be in the office due to the nature of their roles, we are exceeding CDC precautionary and social distancing measures to help protect their health and well-being,” Thornburg CEO Jason Brady said in an email.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region, which has an office with 12 people in Santa Fe, shifted Monday to appointment-only visits, CEO David Sherman said.
“Just for the safety of our employees, we gave them the option to work at home,” Sherman said.
Many Santa Fe eateries have been adding takeout and delivery or already had such services available. Santa Fe’s movie theaters had already shut down by Tuesday.
People could still soak at several Santa Fe-area spas Tuesday afternoon, but by Wednesday, all larger spas were closed. Smaller spas in Santa Fe had generally closed earlier in the week or last week.
DeVargas Center and Santa Fe Place mall will be closed through April 10, per the governor’s order. DeVargas stores with exterior entrances, including Sprouts Farmers Market, CVS and Office Depot, may remain open, said Katy Fitzgerald, senior project manager at DeVargas. “Obviously, we will comply,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, it’s not good [for DeVargas].”
Santa Fe Place did not respond to a request for comment.
Staff reporter Teya Vitu contributed to this report.