SANTA FE – New Mexico’s 14-day quarantine mandate for most incoming travelers, one of the strictest orders of its kind in the nation, is getting a facelift.
Under a revised order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that takes effect Friday, most individuals entering New Mexico from 36 different states – including Arizona and Texas – and all foreign countries will still be subject to a revised travel quarantine order.
But the mandate is being lifted for those arriving from the remaining “lower-risk” states – including Colorado – that have recorded lower COVID-19 case spread in recent weeks.
“In order to strike a balance between public health and ensuring New Mexicans can live and move safely in a COVID-positive world until the arrival of an effective and widely available vaccine, we have to make tough, strategic and data-driven decisions,” the governor said in a Thursday statement.
She also said the changes were aimed at keeping New Mexicans safe while also trying to ease restrictions to address a burgeoning economic crisis.
The travel quarantine mandate has come under criticism in some quarters for its impact on New Mexico’s tourism and hospitality industries, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce on Thursday blasted the Democratic governor for taking belated action and using arbitrary measures to determine whether visitors from certain states would be required to self-quarantine upon arrival in New Mexico.
“This biased treatment based on her ‘science’ is shutting out visitors from particular parts of the nation,” Pearce said in a statement.
Under the revised travel quarantine order, states that have an average COVID-19 case rate of more than 8 people infected out of every 100,000 or an overall test positivity rate of 5% or higher will be subject to the travel quarantine order.
The list of states that meet that criteria will be updated weekly, Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.
The change to the travel quarantine order was not the only visitor-oriented policy shift announced Thursday, as state Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel also increased maximum hotel occupancy limits in a separate public health order.
Starting Friday, hotels that receive state approval will be able to operate at 75% of maximum occupancy – up from the current limit of 50%.
With the state meeting its virus control benchmarks, the changes mark the latest loosening of New Mexico business restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Lujan Grisham’s administration last week allowed restaurants to resume indoor dining at limited capacity and raised the size of allowable public gatherings from 5 to 10 people, among other changes.
Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe, said the changes could help local businesses salvage what’s left of the busy summer tourism season.
“Clearly anything that’s done to relax the restrictions will help,” Randall told the Journal. “It’s almost been impossible for our hotels to gain any momentum.”
In addition, he said the fact visitors from Colorado will be exempt from the quarantine order will be economically significant, as Denver is currently Santa Fe’s biggest market for out-of-state visitors.
Since being enacted in March, New Mexico’s travel quarantine order has not been strictly enforced, as state officials have said it’s intended to function as more of a deterrent.
Tourism officials say it has been successful in that regard by discouraging many – but not all – would-be visitors from coming to New Mexico.
The governor last month added new exemptions under the order 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.
Other exemptions allowed under the travel quarantine order include military personnel, health care workers and those traveling for business purposes.
The changes announced Thursday came as high case counts in several southern New Mexico counties boosted the state’s number of new COVID-19 cases to its highest level in more than a week.
Specifically, state health officials reported 202 new cases on Thursday. Of those cases, 80 were located in three counties – Eddy, Lea and Doña Ana – that have emerged as potential trouble spots in recent weeks.
However, the state’s average of new coronavirus cases remains far lower than it was a month ago, according to a Journal analysis.
As of Thursday, the state’s rolling seven-day average of new coronavirus cases was at 128 – down from an average of 234 new cases as of a month ago.
Meanwhile, state officials also reported one additional death attributable to the virus – a woman in her 70s from Doña Ana County. That brought the state’s death total to 791 since mid-March, though many of the victims have had underlying health conditions.
Statewide hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have both declined since their mid-May peak. There were 75 people hospitalized due to the disease on Thursday, a figure that could include out-of-state patients transferred to New Mexico for treatment.
Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.
The list will be updated weekly and can be found online at: cv.nmhealth.org/travel-recommendations/