Many of the people violating the state’s health restrictions don’t want their names in the newspaper.
Some said they had no idea visitors to New Mexico must self-isolate in quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the state.
Others said they were well aware of the statute and had no plan to adhere to it.
“How are they going to check up on you?” asked a woman from California, who said her name was Petra. “Are they going to come up to every person in every car and ask them?”
Still others said they were just passing through for less than a day and, given they were on their way to another state, wondered how the order applied to them when all they wanted was to get gas, food and maybe take a one-hour stroll around the Plaza.
“Your governor has a good reason for being so aggressive,” said an East Coast visitor who identified himself as Randy, a health care worker who has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. “There is scientific evidence that masks and social distancing can play a role” in stemming the spread of the respiratory virus.
But Randy and his traveling companion, Maria — who both wore masks and kept their distance from others — said quarantining may not have much of an impact on reducing the state’s overall caseload.
“So we are violating one of the rules but not putting people in hazardous peril,” Randy as they walked through Cathedral Park on Monday morning.
The couple said they were traveling from South Carolina to Arizona and spent one night in Santa Fe. They declined to give their last names for fear of “getting into trouble.”
Around the city, other out-of-state visitors spending the night, the week or just a few hours echoed that thought, complaining that putting the onus of blunting the virus on their shoulders was unfair.
Some — like Petra and her traveling companion, Robert, who drove from California — said they did not even bother to check the state’s health guidelines. Both wore masks because they want to respect others who wear masks.
But quarantining visitors was going a step too far, they said.
“The virus is going to do what it’s going to do,” Robert said. “It’s all a folly.”
Regardless of the reasons for noncompliance — several visitors, including a couple of cars full of college students from Oklahoma, said they didn’t know such restrictions applied — the stories of defiance or ignorance speak to the difficulty state officials face in enforcing the mandate.
Meanwhile, it is playing a role in a drop in occupancy rates among Santa Fe hotels, hospitality managers say — another byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis.
In late March, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all out-of-state visitors arriving by air to quarantine for two weeks. On July 1, she amended that restriction and mandated all travelers crossing into the state must follow that rule.
There are exceptions. Among those who do not have to follow the quarantine guidelines are airline employees, public safety and public health officials, military and federal employees, emergency first responders, health care workers and others whose jobs are considered essential who have reason to be doing business in the state.
Still, there are obstacles to enforcing the rule. Some visitors who had spent at least one night in the city said the people working at the hotels, short-term rentals and campsites where they were staying had told them about the quarantine. But those workers cannot be expected to be “the quarantine police,” said Paul Margetson, a managing partner of Hotel Santa Fe.
Occupancy rates at that hotel hover around 20 percent, he added — quite low for this time of year.
Josh Gomez, a manager at El Rey Court, agreed.
“We are doing our best to have everyone maintain safe practices,” he said. “We educate visitors when they make their reservations, and a lot of time they don’t book a room when they find out there is a 14-day quarantine in New Mexico.”
He said hotel staff members notify visitors of the health care guidelines when they check in. But acknowledged, “There’s really no way to police them. That’s the hard part. I think it’s challenging for all hotels.”
He said occupancy rates were around 50 percent before the July 1 rule, Now, they are half that.
Whether action has been taken against anyone violating the rule in the nearly three weeks since the governor imposed it is unclear.
Shortly before the Fourth of July weekend, the governor said out-of-state visitors who do not quarantine could face penalties. Police would begin fining people for not wearing face coverings, she added.
“Now we’re going to do enforcement and hold people accountable,” the governor said at the time. “We have to protect the kids who need to go to school.”
As of Monday, New Mexico Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said in an email that “no self-quarantine action has risen to our level of enforcement.”
New Mexico State Police spokesman Officer Dusty Francisco said in an email his agency “has not issued any citations to date to individuals on the Public Health Order for mask-face covering violations and the 14-day quarantine violations.”
But he said State Police officers had handed out 31 free masks to people who did not have one as part of the enforcement plan.
Officers with the Santa Fe Police Department, meanwhile, have issued numerous citations under a separate city ordinance requiring face coverings. Violators of the city rule face a $50 fine rather than the $100 imposed by the state.
Not all visitors thought the state’s self-isolation rule was a bad one. Karen and Megan Fernandez, a mother-daughter team traveling the country by car with their dog Ash, said 14-day quarantines and the wearing of masks are smart preventive measures.
They said they have engaged in their own form of quarantine since they left Florida in late June by traveling the back roads of the nation, sleeping in a tent by night, ordering takeout food and avoiding others.
But they, too, were aware that even as they stopped downtown to visit Cathedral Park for an hour, they were violating the ordinance.
“We’ve been playing it real safe and real smart,” said Karen Fernandez. “We’ve been living in a self-isolating bubble. You’re the first one we’ve talked to.”