Janet Gaines had a protective mask with her, but she wasn’t wearing it. She whipped it out of her purse in a flash to prove she was carrying one.
Sitting on a stoop of a Canyon Road shop, she said she had just heard the good news: A day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced people who have been fully vaccinated can go maskless in most places, state officials said New Mexico will follow suit.
“It’s such a relief,” said Gaines, a retired University of New Mexico employee who lives in Albuquerque. “This is the day we’ve all been waiting for.”
Though New Mexico is not out of the woods when it comes to the respiratory virus — the state’s death toll is 4,113 — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced Friday that in most cases, “fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear a mask in either indoor or outdoor settings.”
The city of Santa Fe on Friday also revised its mask-wearing guidelines to align with the CDC and the state.
There are some exceptions. Masks must still be worn in schools, health care centers, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and while riding public transportation. A spokeswoman for the Public Education Department said school staff, students and visitors must still don them except when eating or drinking.
“Despite new mask guidance Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mask requirement is unchanged for school settings for now due to the potential spread of COVID-19 among unvaccinated students,” spokeswoman Judy Robinson said in a statement.
Dusty Young, the associate director of the New Mexico Activities Association, said the governing body for high school sports still requires all participants and attendees of athletic and activity events to wear masks, including the State Spirit Competition that concludes Saturday.
Officials for the University of New Mexico athletic department and the New Mexico United said they will continue to require fans to wear masks as the organizations review the updated health order.
The United play their first home soccer match in almost two years Saturday against the Austin Bold. UNM’s baseball team is in the midst of a three-game home series against Utah Valley that ends Sunday.
Still, Gaines said there’s no sense in chucking masks at this point. For one thing, individual businesses, localities and tribal entities may still require them.
Gaines said that’s one reason she’ll be carrying her mask with her for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve got to respect their requests,” she said of business owners who may choose to keep mask-wearing practices in place.
And people who are not fully vaccinated are still required to wear masks in public settings, according to the new state directive.
“Unvaccinated individuals remain at risk of contracting and spreading the virus; over 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases nationwide are among the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, New Mexico’s health secretary, in the news release.
Still, it’s not clear how state officials could track members of that population easily should they chose to defy the new orders.
State officials continue to urge residents to take safety precautions and said guidelines regarding limits to mass gatherings are still in effect.
Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Staff writer James Barron contributed to this report.