Vaccinated Santa Feans may soon return to their art galleries, breweries, parks and plazas without a mask — though some may not be ready to take that step.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday those who have received their full complement of COVID-19 vaccines can go maskless in most places, thrilled visitors and locals said they’ll nevertheless remain wary.
At least for now.
Though the state’s public health orders had not yet been altered in the hours after the decision, the relief was palpable — with many noting the CDC decision indicates the pandemic that had forced face covers upon much of the U.S. may be subsiding in tangible ways.
Santa Fe’s Alex Lindsay, 68, said he believes the new guidelines allow people to see light at the end of the tunnel.
“I feel comfortable about it here in New Mexico, at least,” he said. “Still, I don’t go into a store or a building without a mask. I think it’s actually going to happen, and we will be able to feel a little more comfortable with herd immunity if we ever get there.”
As they visited Santa Fe’s historic Plaza on Thursday afternoon, Stuart Garber, 60, and Luis Fernandez, 58, said that although they are fully vaccinated and will be happy to enjoy this new freedom, they’ll still be cautious in densely crowded areas.
“We feel pretty comfortable, but we still feel that we want to maintain the situation to be safe and secure,” Fernandez said.
Garber emphasized he trusted the decision because it was time — not the result of public pressure.
“I’m confident that the decision framework that the CDC, representing the whole of public health in the United States, and also the New Mexico public health authorities, are closely looking at evidence,” he said. “I don’t think of it as arbitrary or public pressure to accommodate the reopening of the economy.”
Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett in an email wrote the state Department of Health is reviewing the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people.
“We expect adjustments to the state’s public health order to be made imminently after a thorough evaluation of the new information,” she wrote.
Masks had been a source of controversy in Santa Fe through much of the pandemic, with local business owners and restaurant workers complaining many visitors didn’t wear them — or seemed not to care.
But some visitors touring Santa Fe, while welcoming the news, said they were happy so many people took the mask mandates seriously. They noted the situation in their home countries is not nearly as good as the U.S.
Yuki Girardi, 18, of Verona, Italy, and 19-year-old Martin Olate of Santiago, Chile, arrived in the state two years ago to study at United World College in San Miguel County. Olate said he feels privileged to be in a country and state that is implementing vaccines and public health orders effectively, noting his home country is still under lockdown and curfew orders.
“Having the possibility to go outside without a mask or go places, it’s weird for me,” he said.
The pair, visiting Santa Fe for a few days, said they’re happy to be in a place with a smaller population and lots of outdoor activities.
New Mexico’s COVID-19 numbers, which, like many places, had been on a roller coaster throughout the crisis, have remained relatively low for the past several weeks.
On Thursday, the state reported 202 new cases and two new deaths, including one fatality in Santa Fe County. The state on Thursday topped the 50 percent mark in completed vaccinations among eligible residents, and 61 percent have received at least one dose.
Many counties in New Mexico, including Santa Fe County, remain in the turquoise phase of reopening. But for some people on Thursday, the CDC’s announcement meant there were greener days ahead.