As the effects of COVID-19 seep deeply into New Mexico’s social, economic and governmental fiber, life in Santa Fe has become far different and Monday will bring even more tumult.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Sunday ordered most state employees to begin working from home Monday to limit exposure to coronavirus. Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Santa Fe County Manager Katherine Miller said their respective governments would follow suit within a few days.
“These are life-and-death issues at play and people should stay at home,” Webber said Sunday.
The news release from the governor had barely reached inboxes when other ominous news related to the virus began pouring in:
- The state announced four more New Mexico residents — all from Bernalillo County — had tested positive for the respiratory disease, bringing the number of New Mexicans infected to 17. The new cases were men ranging in age from their 20s to 40s. All four cases were travel related, according to Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett, and the men are at home in self-isolated quarantine. In all, 583 New Mexicans have been tested; New Mexico has not yet had any coronavirus-related deaths, Meyers Sackett said.
- Access to restaurants, bars, breweries and other eating establishments will be limited to 50 percent of maximum occupancy after Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel amended a previous emergency decree that curtailed the amount of people who could gather in a public space or event. Beginning Monday, restaurant owners may not seat more than six people at one table or booth, and all occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet. In addition, patrons may not be seated or served at bars.
- Ski Santa Fe and Taos Ski Valley announced they were ending their seasons. Other tourist attractions were also considering closing. Wildly popular Meow Wolf announced its closure last week.
And though Kunkel’s original order on public gatherings did not apply to casinos on tribal land, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Lujan Grisham had called tribal leaders to ask them to close their casinos. Many, including Pojoaque, have agreed to do so for at least two weeks.
The governor also called business and recreational leaders and companies to ask them to comply with the “work at home” edict, Stelnicki said.
“If possible, work from home,” Stelnicki said. “That’s the key. Everyone should try to figure out how to do things remotely if possible. We want everyone to take this virus seriously and limit the potential spread.”
The governor said state divisions that deal with the public — such as the Motor Vehicle Division — will limit staffing and find alternatives to provide service. New Mexico also is closing state museums, historic sites, parks and cultural institutions as of Monday, and the Rail Runner Express train will halt operations.
Meanwhile, in the hospitality industry, which could be decimated by a prolonged tourist drought, some acknowledged the situation was too important to complain about.
Rik Blyth, general manager of La Fonda on the Plaza, which houses a restaurant and bar, said he could live with the decision to limit seating.
“It’s less draconian than I thought it might be. ... I was worried they might shut us down,” he said, later adding the decision is “a good public-health move. We can go along with it.”
Lujan Grisham’s decision to reconfigure the daily operation of state government is only one part of changes in everyday life in Santa Fe. City and county governments were making plans as well Sunday.
Webber said the city’s Human Resources Department is putting together a policy for “folks to work at home as much as possible.” The city employs about 1,400 people. He added essential employees would still be expected to be at their desks, depending on job responsibilities. He said he expects the plan to be in place by midweek at the latest.
Miller said the county, which employs 950 people, already was working on a similar policy, which it will roll out more fully this week.
But, she said, “A lot of our services are directly tied to the public, so it may be a bit difficult to work from home for some of those county employees. But we will basically do something similar to what the state is doing.”
While New Mexico’s courts have remained open through the crisis, on Sunday the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender asked the state Supreme Court to postpone all trials and find a way to conduct telephonic hearings for all but the most essential cases.
“This is a very difficult decision because all public defenders care deeply about safeguarding our clients’ rights to speedy determination of their cases, but in a health emergency like this one, the safety of our clients and our court community is of the highest concern,” Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is enacting a “liberal work from home policy, where possible, to promote social distancing,” according to an email from spokesman Matt Nerzig.
He said the lab has set up a pandemic advisory team that is monitoring the situation.
“At this time, there are no confirmed case at the Laboratory and there has been no disruption to Laboratory operations,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Mid-Region Council of Governments and Rio Metro Transit District said the Rail Runner commuter train will stop operations during “the duration of the public emergency,” according to the Governor’s Office.
Webber said the city does not yet plan to cancel or curtail Santa Fe’s public bus system. “There’s lots of people who depend on public transit to get to their jobs and we don’t want to penalize them by ending transit,” he said.
He said all essential city programs will continue, such as waste pickup, police and fire operations, and water services.
“We want to do everything we can to minimize social impact and continue to deliver services,” he said.