Bridget Dixson lauded news of the state’s plan to fully reopen by the end of June.
“We are excited for what feels like the end of the tunnel, the end of restrictions, which will be great for commerce, tourism and the city as a whole,” said Dixson, president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, following an announcement Wednesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico’s top health officials during a virtual news conference on COVID-19.
Lujan Grisham said the state is “conquering COVID.”
Officials expect 60 percent of residents to be fully vaccinated by late June, enough to allow residents to get back to business almost as usual — with masks on, in many cases.
The governor and health officials said it’s still imperative for New Mexicans to play it safe by following federal and state health guidelines. Mask requirements for indoor public places will remain.
The state will help businesses find ways to operate at full capacity while adhering to social-distancing guidelines, Lujan Grisham said.
Her comments came on the 414th day of the pandemic in New Mexico and just a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear face coverings outdoors unless they are in a crowd.
The state will adopt those guidelines. Beginning Friday, residents can bike, jog or walk outside without wearing a mask if they are fully inoculated.
However, the governor said sports teams and people engaging in outdoor group athletic activities must keep their faces covered.
“It will be a lifelong journey, but we should always be winning against COVID, and in fact New Mexico is,” Lujan Grisham said.
State Republican Party leaders applauded the plan to reopen in coming months but criticized the governor over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including business and school closures.
“It’s good that perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but the Governor has been playing politics with our health crisis from the beginning and has confounded and hurt our citizens with her illogical color-coded system,” Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, wrote in a statement issued by his office Wednesday.
He was referring to the state’s county-based, color-coded system of coronavirus restrictions on business operations.
“Our economy has been crushed, jobs lost and businesses have been closed for good, and there’s never been a concrete or equitable plan to address COVID-19,” Pearce wrote.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen wrote in an email the plan to reopen was welcome, but he was “disappointed that politics got in the way of this self-evident reform to the reopening framework.”
“We have been shouting for months that the people in our communities are suffering because of these continued illogical and unscientific protocols,” Baca wrote. “While I am thankful that the Governor has finally taken action to remedy some of these issues, I hope it is not too little, too late.”
Republican lawmakers pushed to open the state Capitol to the public — particularly during this year’s 60-day legislative session — after it was closed in response to the pandemic.
The Capitol reopened quietly Wednesday — another sign life is slowly returning to some sense of normal.
Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, which oversees the facility, said visitors and staff must wear masks and remain socially distanced when in the building.
The Legislative Council will meet Monday to discuss how interim hearings will be held in the Capitol, Burciaga said. Meanwhile, he and his staff are working on a plan to bring Capitol employees back into their offices.
“We want to make sure staff is vaccinated and are comfortable,” he said. “We have a few offices that are communal offices, shared, so we don’t want to just throw people in together right away. We want to transition into something people feel comfortable and safe with.”
As of Wednesday, 41.6 percent of all New Mexicans 16 and older had been fully vaccinated, the governor said. Once the state reaches a 60 percent vaccination rate — which is expected within nine weeks — the color-coded restriction system will be discarded.
State data shows 699,000 New Mexicans are fully vaccinated and another 267,000 have received one dose and are waiting for a booster shot.
Santa Fe County’s rate of residents who have been fully vaccinated is 46.2 percent, according to state data.
The state also eased the criteria for counties aiming to rise to higher designations.
Under the current criteria, a county can enter turquoise status — the least restrictive designation — after averaging eight or fewer new cases per 100,000 people and having a test positivity rate of 5 percent or less over two consecutive two-week periods. Starting Friday, counties can achieve turquoise status with an average of 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people and a 7 percent positivity rate for four weeks.
Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said New Mexico has had 271 “breakout” cases, in which people who were fully vaccinated still contracted COVID-19. Four of those patients have died, though Scrase said only one of the deaths was definitively tied to the virus.
Nationwide, the CDC reported in mid-April that out of the 75 million Americans who received COVID-19 vaccinations, 5,800 still contracted the virus and 74 died.
Lujan Grisham said the state’s progress in overcoming the virus has been “monumental.”
“We are basically there. Our efforts have in fact paid off.”