Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexicans will soon be able to resume camping at state parks and youth sports teams will be allowed to start practicing in small groups.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the changes will give more options to children – and parents – who have seen their recreational activities curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic that hit New Mexico roughly six months ago.
“These changes are really aimed at getting more COVID-safe options for kids, in particular, but also families,” Lujan Grishsam said during a remote news conference that was broadcast from the Roundhouse.
However, the governor cautioned the state’s battle to contain the coronavirus is not over yet, and said rapidly reopening the state’s economy would be a reckless move that could lead to a spike in new virus cases.
“I want us to be optimistic … but none of this should be an indicator that COVID-19 is gone,” Lujan Grisham said.
While some parts of the state have seen a recent uptick in cases, New Mexico’s overall death and hospitalization rates from COVID-19 are down significantly from a mid-May peak.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases also remains well below previous months, though a gradual decline in cases has leveled off in recent days.
Specifically, the state had a rolling average of 110 new cases per day in the seven-day period ending Thursday, according to a Journal analysis. Two months ago, that average was at 273 new cases daily.
That trend has prompted the Lujan Grisham administration to ease some business and travel restrictions in recent weeks, including allowing hotels to take in more guests and permitting restaurants and breweries to resume indoor dining at limited capacity.
State Republicans have blasted the governor for not allowing further reopening of the state’s economy, saying the COVID-19 restrictions have decimated the state’s tourism industry, among other sectors.
“Data show we are doing better than our neighboring states, but the governor refuses to allow our economy to reopen, basing her decisions on her ‘science,'” New Mexico GOP chairman Steve Pearce said Thursday.
However, Lujan Grisham has steadfastly defended her administration’s response to the pandemic.
She also said New Mexico’s population has more underlying health conditions per capita than states like Colorado, which has also eased some of its business restrictions.
“We continue to fight back against COVID-19, and in many ways win,” the governor said during Thursday’s news conference.
Most of the changes announced Thursday will be included in a revised public health order that will take effect Friday and run through mid-October.
The policy shift regarding camping at state parks for New Mexico residents will not go into effect until next month.
While youth sports practices with up to 10 people in a group will be allowed, competitive play and scrimmages will remain off-limits and social distancing of at least 6 feet between players will still be required.
In addition, the revised order will also allow ice skating rinks to reopen for hockey and figure skating lessons – by reservation only – and swimming pools will be allowed to open with no more than 10 people in a pool at any one time. Pools had previously been limited to lap swimming only.
Pumpkin patches will also be allowed to open under the revised order, though they must follow state guidelines, and face masks will still be required in all public settings, with an allowable exception for eating and drinking.
State officials also shared good news about restaurants and breweries, which nearly three weeks ago were allowed to resume indoor dining at limited capacity.
Environment Secretary James Kenney said restaurants now make up a smaller share of state’s rapid responses launched in response to workplace COVID-19 cases. The health care industry makes up the largest percentage of New Mexico rapid responses.
“We appreciate the cooperation from the restaurant industry,” Kenney said, who added that all restaurant permits that had been suspended due to noncompliance with state guidelines have been reinstated.
Six months into the pandemic, Lujan Grisham described New Mexico’s low test positivity rate – of about 2% – and its supply of medical equipment as promising.
“We believe that we’re trending exactly in the way we were hoping to,” she said.
The governor also said the state’s centralized public health system could allow it to independently gauge the safety and efficacy of any coronavirus vaccines that are made available in the coming months.
While the state’s COVID-19 testing levels have decreased in recent weeks, Lujan Grisham said saliva-based testing that delivers quicker results is now being used in some settings, including long-term care facilities.
“We want these opportunities in as many places as we can get them,” she said.
Though the state’s coronavirus outlook has been generally improving, testing confirmed 159 new cases of the virus Thursday – the largest single-day figure in two weeks.
The governor also reported that four more New Mexicans had died in the virus outbreak, pushing the death toll to 836 people since March. Most victims have been elderly residents with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.