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.

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General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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(24) comments

DANIEL GOWE

This is our area. https://flightaware.com/live/airport/KSAF Zoom in and out for your area. When you look at this, think of it as a virus spreading. This is how the virus can be spread. This is in real time, if not then reload it. This show how many airplanes are in the sky at any given time. This is the same for trains and busses as long as the avenue is open, it will follow. Please tell the Governor to close all interstate travel by land and air. Don't make this like a bad intersection where there has to be a body count before anything is done. Just saying.......

Cheryl Gonzales

Don't go running for a test. Pa que?? You need to get fresh air into your lungs starting now. Don't glom onto healthcare system until you have shortness of breath. Autopsies show both lungs hard as a board.

Cheryl Gonzales

Mr. Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican needs a column: firsthand stories from the ancianos who lived through the Great Depression. NM people are creative. Every day ask how they are making it. Hints on guarding those pennies until we come out the other side of this. Landlords start reducing rents.

Cheryl Gonzales

Face masks: sew some with cotton fabric. Modify a ski mask, ski goggles, garden gloves, hoodie. No one needs to see your pretty face right now. I've been garbed ip for a week. I take that paper mask off and throw it into sin, spray with Lysol, run water over it all day and wash it out with dish soap . Hang to dry. Desperate times.

Cheryl Gonzales

Remember Legionnaire's disease was traced to moldy air recirculating. Hong Kong SARS was pressurized ac systems blowing recycled bacteria. Get outside like kids, teens, 20-somethings. NM fresh air, star building your lung capacity. Open up the rooftop bar at La Fonda.

Steven Vrooman

I want to share what I have read about the major way that Singapore and Taiwan slowed the spread of the epidemic. Its not face masks (ineffective) it is through contact tracing. Where the infected person got it, who they had contact with, where they shopped and ate and so on. Much of this information was shared publicly so that people could avoid the virus. We are getting a trickle of information of new cases each day, but getting even less information from news organizations and the state. Were these two new cases infected in-state? Can we know if its truly being passed through our community already, or just people coming back from areas further into the epidemic? Everyone I've talked with wants to know the risk, and we don't have the information we need.

Elizabeth Pettus

Is there any thought of relief for employees and businesses who pay the city for parking, and then are supposed to work from home? We can’t give up our passes, and the $70/month adds up.

Allan Swartzberg

I think the Santa Fe government should do even more but not complaining because I can only imagine how folks would react. I would not want to be in the governments shoes right now. I would lock down now before it is too late. I wish all folks would take it serious so the government could do their job but so many folks are acting as if this is not a concern. We need to follow all the guidelines. I have closed my facial spa and using the time to reorganize and will come back with so many ideas. The main concern I have is the hospitals being overburdened once this virus spreads. As I went to the grocery store this town does not even have enough groceries for everyone - well granted some are over buying and not being very considerate of their fellow man. I actually had a woman jump in front of me to get lunch meat and ignoring the 3' rule. How about all the nonvirus hospital needs that will need to wait if we are in a major epidemic? I know my daughter's baby cannot wait - she will come into this world and may not have a hospital room to do it in? She is not in Santa Fe but it makes me think of all the pregnant woman. People that need procedures, etc. Anyway I do support everyone considering others and not just their own financial fears. I pray we can all make the decision to close down if we are not needed by the community and let this go away quickly. I would not eat out right now if you paid me - who knows who is handling the food that is not observing hygiene rules. Just sayin. We need to think of our fellow man and not be so greedy at the stores and only get what is needed for a couple a weeks so the stores can restock. I am having so much fun cooking:) We need to follow the guidelines when we do need to be out to restock. This may not be a real concern for you but for others this is really scary - some will not live.

Ruby RO

Mr. Raifsnider is right, because of the failure to provide testing as an early and preventative response by the federal government, we have no idea how many people are infected. Additionally our mayor was as per usual also not showing any foresight and had the entire community of Santa Fe wandering the halls at the city with requirements that business owners come to the city in person to get business licenses. I see in the article that our mayor is just now starting to figure out how to respond and be preventative in the spread of the virus.

Maxwell Vertical

Bar tenders be damned!

David Martinez

The Rail Runner service has been suspended, any word on the park and Ride buses?

Dan Chase

Some people will never be happy with the decisions that people make, like the governor. Truth be told you really just not happy with yourselves and the decisions you have made! The governor could have made a cure and someone would complain...

Leesa Vigil

Agree! Bunch of complainers in the comments section, from the usual suspects.

Anne Minard

raming the issue as "how the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 around the world has the power to basically shut down everyday life" seems off to me, like it was written by a 20-something with little (fear of getting sick or) understanding of why we're actually doing all this. This is not a virus canceling the world (as I've also heard it said). This is experts recommending -- and governments implementing -- strategies to slow the spread of the disease so our hospitals won't be too overwhelmed to care for the people who get really sick (often, but not always, older and less healthy people). New Mexico citizens and Americans generally don't like to be told what to do, by the government or a virus, and that resistance is showing right now. How about writing from a persoective more like, "this is what we're all doing, together, on purpose, to be thoughtful, compassionate, and helpful citizens?"

Maxwell Vertical

How many deaths in the state. Reporting cases isn’t enough. How many have been hospitalized, and how many are recovering at home? C’mon New Mexican get your act together.

James Morris

No deaths so far, according to article.

Ed Li

With many irresponsible people not listening to the preventative measures advised by our state officials we can at some point expect a total lockdown as other countries have. This will be the only option left to slow spread of the virus.

Dan Frazier

The governor is not impressing me. First she closed schools, when there is to my knowledge little or no evidence of community spread, and little if any evidence that closing schools would actually slow the spread of the disease. Now she closes parks. Why close parks? People can't even go for a walk in the park now? And is the typo in the statement from her office, or was it introduced by the New Mexican?

John Raifsnider

The reason there appears to be 'little or no evidence of community spread' is that few people have been tested to see who is carrying it and where. When the spreading is invisible, not seeing it does not mean it is not there. Therefore casting a wide net becomes the safe and responsible solution. Restrictions will likely get more stringent quite quickly for the rate of speed of this infection spread is exploding exponentially.

Chris Mechels

In Santa Fe today, everything seemed very normal. Hardly any face masks, little attention to keeping away from others, crowding at the library.

Compared to other countries, we seem inert in our response. Giving all government employees a paid holiday is the main "hard choice" by the Governor it seems, along with dictating the health providers have to "eat" the testing and treatment costs for COVID-19. How is that a "hard decision" for our tiny governor???

The response to this point in NM, as at the White House, seems political.

Tiffany Thomas

Chris, actually government employees are not on a paid holiday. If they are mandated to adapt to a "telework policy" it means exactly that. Although it be remotely, the expectation is still to complete an 8 hour work day, just as if working in the offices. I hope this gives you clarification and maybe stops some of your complaining...

Meredith Madri

"Hardly any face masks"... Chris, you 're not supposed to wear a face mask unless you are SICK. Wearing a mask when you are not infected will not stop you from getting infected. This from CDC & WHO.

Rikki West

Is that why Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have so few cases?

They have one common factor: face masks

Elizabeth Pettus

These are three groups of people who have always worn face masks for the protection of others even when they are allergic. I do think it is probably more effective that we think as a culture, but they always have them and are not denying them to emergency workers which we would be doing if we scooped them all up.

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