Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexicans next week can dine out, hit the gym and get a trim – for the first time in two months.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said a revised public health order going into effect Monday will allow restaurants, gyms, salons and malls to reopen at partial capacity.
But customers and employees will be required to comply with a series of social distancing guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease that has killed 335 New Mexicans.
It’s critical, Lujan Grisham said, that people continue to wear cloth masks while out in public – a step that will help keep employees safe from customers who may be infected without showing symptoms.
“This is really good news,” she said during a remote news conference from the Capitol. “New Mexicans have worked really hard to respect and protect each other.”
Under the new order, which has not yet been issued, restaurants statewide will be able to operate at 50% capacity for dine-in services, but customers can’t be served at a bar or counter-top. Tables must be at least 6 feet apart.
Gyms, meanwhile, also can reopen at half capacity. Hair and nail salons, tattoo shops and indoor malls can operate at 25%.
Each industry will have to comply with specific social distancing and safety procedures.
While business restrictions are being relaxed, Lujan Grisham said New Mexicans should stay home if they’re sick and not patronize businesses that do not follow social distancing guidelines.
“As businesses did their part to protect New Mexicans, we have to do our part to protect businesses,” she said.
In other changes, New Mexico hotels will be able to welcome more guests – with their maximum occupancy increasing from 25% to 50% – and drive-in theaters will be allowed to fully reopen.
And while a 14-day self-quarantine order will remain in place for airport arrivals, the governor said it will be amended to permit some business travelers to come and go more easily.
Once they are official, the new rules will apply throughout the state. Some of the previous orders imposed tighter restrictions in the northwestern part of the state, where the virus outbreak has hit hardest.
Salon, gym adjustments
Business owners say they’re eager to reopen, even with restrictions.
Bonnie Clark, co-owner of Swank Salon in Albuquerque, said she intends to reopen the shuttered salon next week, albeit with fewer customers per day while her team adjusts to the new rules.
Rather than the typical eight to 12 customers, Clark said, the salon is booking just six appointments a day to start, with 15-minute gaps in between for Clark and her two co-workers to sanitize seats, drying hoods and other surfaces that customers come in contact with.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this affects our productivity and our income,” Clark said.
To prepare for the reopening, Clark said, Swank bought 20 new salon capes to ensure every customer gets a clean one. Every customer will be required to wear a mask, and employees will wear face shields.
“We’re ready to see our clients again,” Clark said, “but we want to do it in a safe way.”
Maria Lamar, spokeswoman for Defined Fitness, said the fitness chain is planning to open its doors at 4:30 a.m. Monday. Even at 50% of their normal maximum capacity, Lamar said the gyms can each accommodate several hundred people at a time.
“Our members have indicated to us that they’re very excited to get back to their fitness routines,” Lamar said.
Defined Fitness staff have reorganized gym equipment and closed every fourth locker to comply with social distancing restrictions. In addition, Lamar said, the gyms will have employees cleaning each piece of equipment in between uses, and sanitizing them more thoroughly every hour.
Virus spread has slowed
The relaxed restrictions announced Thursday are possible, state health officials said, because New Mexicans have succeeded in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing improvements all across the state,” Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Thursday. The progress “gives us some room to safely reopen.”
Lujan Grisham also shared other goods news – just 196 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, a 7% decline from the day before.
But she said six more New Mexicans have died, pushing the death toll to 335. Testing confirmed 108 new cases of the virus, she said.
State residents, Scrase said, have succeeded in reducing the virus spread rate to 1.09, meaning each person who is sick infects, on average, 1.09 other people. The goal is to get the number below 1, he said, meaning the virus would start to die out.
Scrase urged people to continue to wear cloth masks when out in public – a key step to ensuring you don’t spread the virus to other people.
“Respect your responsibility to protect other people,” Scrase said.
He also said the state had confirmed its first case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in a child, similar to Kawasaki syndrome. The unusual illness is believed to be related to COVID-19 infections.
Scrase described the patient as a very young child who is now “doing fairly well.”
Bars, theaters closed
Lujan Grisham said she hopes the state can gradually relax more business restrictions even before the end of June.
But for now, bars and theaters will remain closed. And retail stores will remain under a restriction requiring them to limit the number of customers and employees inside at any time.
“The virus is not gone – the virus still lives among us,” Lujan Grisham said.
Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham has faced pressure from some business owners to ease business restrictions and criticism from state Republicans about her handling of the pandemic.
State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce on Thursday accused the Democratic governor of having a “haphazard” approach to reopening the state, citing different occupancy limits for different types of businesses.
“There’s no real method to this, and her inequitable and discriminatory decisions continue to kill our economy,” Pearce said in a statement.
However, Lujan Grisham has defended her administration’s approach to the pandemic and also pushed back on criticism centering on her remote purchase from a jewelry store in Albuquerque last month. She said she was the subject of a “wildly inaccurate” story, but she didn’t specify what was wrong with it or which report she took issue with.
The purchase was first covered by KRQE-TV, but other outlets also reported on it.
The governor also said a special legislative session set for June 18 will have to comply with social distancing requirements. That could mean seating some legislators in public galleries – rather than on the floor of each chamber – to ensure they’re spread far enough apart.
“It won’t be like any other legislative session we’ve seen before,” Lujan Grisham said.