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Governor adds new exemptions to 14-day quarantine order

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Travelers wait outside the Albuquerque International Sunport on Thursday. Under a travel quarantine order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, most people arriving in New Mexico are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday revised a 14-day self-quarantine mandate for anyone entering New Mexico, adding new exemptions that include one for state residents who have to travel outside the state’s borders for medical treatment.

However, the revised order, which took effect immediately, leaves in place the heart of a previous travel quarantine mandate that has come under criticism in some quarters for its impact on New Mexico’s tourism and hospitality industries.

Unlike other states like New York that have mandatory travel quarantine orders for incoming visitors from certain locations hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, New Mexico’s order applies to anyone entering the state.

That includes New Mexico residents who have traveled outside the state’s borders to visit family and friends, camp or merely sightsee.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the state could consider future changes to the order, but said its current broad scope is intended to make it as effective as possible.

“If the virus is anywhere, the virus is everywhere,” Sackett told the Journal. “COVID-19 is currently widespread nationwide and as such, travelers into the state from anywhere pose a transmission risk.”

Exceptions allowed under the travel quarantine order include military personnel, health care workers and those traveling for business purposes.

In addition, the revised order issued by the governor adds two new exemptions – for those who leave the state to obtain medical care and for residents who travel outside New Mexico for less than 24 hours due to parental responsibilities.

Lujan Grisham said during a Thursday news conference that provision is aimed specifically at divorced parents with shared custody who have to travel across state lines to pick up or drop off their children.

“We want to make sure we’re not requiring those parents to quarantine,” the governor said.

However, some New Mexicans expressed disappointment that additional changes were not made to the travel quarantine order.

Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque, wrote in an email that she was “disappointed” that there were not more changes made to the state’s quarantine order regarding out-of-state visitors.

She added that the organization was supportive of a request from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., that those who test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before coming to the state be exempt from the mandated 14-day quarantine period.

That change was not included in the revised order issued Thursday.

“We strongly believe there are ways to ease the restrictions while still protecting the public health, and there are several other states’ approaches we can model,” Armenta said.

In addition, Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said the travel quarantine order had made things “just crazy” for residents of eastern New Mexico, who often travel into Texas for work and medical care.

“She doesn’t think about all of the state – she’s thinking about the Rio Grande corridor,” Woods said Thursday, saying he had several discussions about the issue with Governor’s Office staffers.

Adrian Montoya, board president of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association, said his members will continue to follow both the state mandates and their own best practices to keep guests safe.

With travel from other states limited, Montoya told the Journal that the hotel industry is relying more on travel from other parts of New Mexico, as well as stay-cations, to fill in the gaps.

Lujan Grisham issued her first travel quarantine order on March 27 but has now modified it several times since then.

The Democratic governor has described the order as necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially with recent case spikes in neighboring Arizona and Texas.

After rising for most of July, the rolling seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in New Mexico has steadily declined in recent days.

The state’s death and hospitalization rates have also decreased, and remain below peak levels from mid-May.

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