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Editorial: Heinrich’s proposal provides a smart lifeline to tourism

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for some targeted relief to her decree that out-of state visitors to New Mexico must quarantine for 14 days, proposing instead that those who test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before coming to the state be exempt from that requirement.

His suggestion for modest relief strikes a reasonable balance between public health concerns and economic reality.

Hopefully it won’t fall on deaf ears in Santa Fe, because as it stands now the governor’s de facto message to out-of state visitors is pretty simple: Don’t come.

That’s the bottom line of the current public health order that says, “Effective July 1, New Mexico is enforcing mandatory self-quarantine for all out-of-state travelers to New Mexico, whether by air or vehicle. The mandatory self-quarantine is to last 14 days or the length of stay in New Mexico, whichever is shorter.”

The governor says the quarantine – which has exceptions for medical workers, military members and others – is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 in New Mexico, which as of Tuesday had suffered 21,340 cases and 658 deaths.

And it makes sense to limit large numbers of out-of-state visitors in places like T or C, Taos and Ruidoso, which during peak months have throngs of people visiting from states with high case rates, such as Texas and Arizona.

But it’s also incredibly bitter economic medicine for a poor state. According to the state Department of Tourism website, in 2018 just over 37.5 million visitors to New Mexico spent $7.1 billion and generated $694 million in state and local taxes. As for jobs, the site says the tourism industry employed 94,601 people.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Indian Market, State Fair and other events have been canceled, and it’s increasingly clear the governor intends to keep a tight lid on things for the foreseeable future, even as hospitalizations dip and current case trends and positivity rates remain relatively low. She has that power unless the courts decide otherwise. And it can be argued that the current trend is favorable because she has kept a tight lid on things.

But given that trend, Heinrich’s request for some modest relief is most welcome. In a letter to the governor last week, he noted the pandemic had upended whole sectors of the state’s economy, including the hospitality, tourism and outdoor recreation industries.

“Creating a safe and responsible pathway for out-of-state visitors to enter New Mexico and amending restrictions for state parks will ignite economies, create new jobs and provide an urgent stimulus to New Mexico’s hospitality, tourism and outdoor recreation industries.” (The governor’s order bans out-of-state visitors from New Mexico state parks and restricts days and hours of operation.)

Our soon-to-be senior senator noted other states have implemented similar exemptions and demonstrated communities can be protected from the spread of the virus with “safe and smart tourism.” The governor has said she is looking at some changes to her quarantine provision, such as for people who travel out of state for medical procedures. A spokeswoman said a revised order will come out this week but had no comment about Heinrich’s request.

The governor – who hasn’t had much interest in suggestions from Republicans or New Mexico mayors – might look more kindly on one from a fellow high-ranking Democrat. New Mexicans should hope so. Tourism has been devastated and needs a lifeline. Heinrich’s request provides a smart one.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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