As the number of cases of the new coronavirus continued to rise in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday afternoon ordered a series of additional restrictions on business operations to further prevent the virus’s spread — and she warned of increased enforcement efforts.
The new order, which takes effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday, requires liquor stores, auto dealerships and payday loan companies to close, saying they are no longer considered essential to the welfare of the state and its residents during the public health crisis.
The order also extends a shutdown of all nonessential businesses until April 30, and strongly urges residents to stay home except in the case of an emergency or to purchase necessities.
While grocery stores, pharmacies and retailers that sell household goods are allowed to remain open, they must allow no more than 20 percent of their normal capacity of customers inside at a time starting Tuesday morning.
Customers waiting in line outside stores must maintain a 6-foot distance from one another to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus, which can cause the highly contagious respiratory illness COVID-19.
Hotels, motels and other places of lodging will be allowed to accommodate no more than 25 percent of their guest capacity.
“These measures will help us prevent a sudden spike in infections that would overwhelm our healthcare system,” the governor said in a news release Monday announcing the new order. “This virus is still spreading, and we must remain vigilant about physical distancing from one another. And we will ramp up enforcement of non-compliance.”
Nora Meyer Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, said in email late Monday, “Bottom line, this will be enforced, and if people continue to congregate and flout the order, it will be enforced aggressively. There is authority to penalize violators of the act and we will use it. As the governor said in her statement, these are not friendly suggestions. New Mexicans should expect to see enforcement.”
New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson has directed officers to educate businesses about the new rules and restrictions, Sackett said, and “allow them a reasonable opportunity to adapt.”
Those who refuse to comply could be charged with a petty misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $100, up to six months in jail or both, Sackett said.
“Civil penalties can be up to $5,000/violation,” she added.
The state reported 62 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with a spike in San Juan County. So far, there have been a total of 686 cases of the illness in New Mexico.
Earlier Monday, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber issued new emergency restrictions for all grocery stores, supermarkets and farmers markets in the city to help prevent the virus’s spread, including provisions banning reusable bags.
City and state officials agreed some provisions in the governor’s order supersede those in Webber’s order, which called for stores to operate at no more than 30 percent of customer capacity rather than 20 percent, as ordered by Lujan Grisham.
City attorney Erin McSherry said the city will comply with the governor’s more stringent restrictions.
“On one hand, our grocery stores and supermarkets are essential,” Webber said in a Monday morning teleconference when he announced the new rules. “If we don’t limit customer and employee interactions, and customer-to-customer interactions, they risk being high-transference sites.”
Under Webber’s order, the city will not enforce its Reusable Bag Ordinance, which prohibits stores from using single-use plastic bags, and will stop collecting a 10-cent fee for each paper bag, as it has been doing for years under the ordinance. The fee often has been passed on to customers.
Instead, Webber’s order asks stores to stop allowing customers to bring in reusable bags and to stop charging bag fees.
Santa Fe stores must provide disinfectant for high-touch surfaces, such as grocery carts and touch pads, and regularly disinfect them.
They must close all self-service salad bars, food stations and sampling stands.
The order also calls for stores to provide exclusive shopping hours for people at the highest risk of developing the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
In the order, Webber asks households to limit shopping trips to one per week and to have no more than two people per household visit a store at the same time. He urges people not to hoard items but to purchase enough for a period of two weeks.
Santa Fe County has 64 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including two new cases announced Monday.
But it was an increase of 25 in the state’s far northwestern corner — where officials predicted a surge this week — that drove up the daily count. San Juan County now has 83 cases of the illness.
The new cases also include a resident and two staff members at La Vida Llena retirement community in Albuquerque, which has had two deaths from the illness and a number of positive test results over the weekend.
Bernalillo County has the highest number of confirmed cases in the state, at 262, followed by Sandoval County with 114.
To date, 12 people in New Mexico have died from the virus. Most had underlying health problems.
The state Department of Health said 48 people are now hospitalized because of the respiratory illness.
The state said 133 people have recovered from COVID-19. But it is not yet clear if all those who have recovered from the illness are now immune to the virus.
Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokeswoman for the state Human Services Department, said according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the immune response to the new coronavirus “is not really understood yet. So while there’s an assumption that people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 will have some immunity, there’s also some uncertainty.”