But a September study from the National Safety Council paints a different picture, as New Mexico fared particularly well in an evaluation of its business reopening guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Mexico was one of 12 states to receive an “on-track” rating from the organization. It was also one of two states, alongside New York, that was deemed on track for each of the five rating criteria related to providing guidance for businesses trying to open or operate during a pandemic.
“New Mexico’s really a leader here,” said Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs for the National Safety Council.
Terry said the National Safety Council, a nonprofit public service organization with a focus on limiting preventable injuries and deaths, has focused on helping employers that were caught flat-footed by the onset of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the council devised Safe Actions for Employee Returns, or “SAFER,” to help employers find safe ways to operate as the economy began to reopen after the initial virus-related shutdown. Terry said the report, the first in a series of three that will be published by the organization, was a way to look at how individual states are following those guidelines with an absence of guidance from the federal government.
“If you can get some good public health-facing policies instituted at a place of employment, you can really help slow the spread for entire communities in some of these cases,” Terry said.
The report grades states on their response in five areas: employer guidelines, testing, contact tracing, mental health and substance use and roadway safety.
Terry said the organization wanted to take a holistic approach when looking at how employers cope with a pandemic, noting that both substance abuse and the rate of roadway deaths have risen during these tumultuous six months.
Terry praised the state’s response, particularly on its approach to creating guidelines for employers looking to reopen. Nora Meyers Sackett, press secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said in an email that the administration, which established an economic recovery council in April, moved quickly to prioritize establishing robust workplace regulations.
As a result, Terry said the guidelines are clear and easy to follow, with good breakdowns for different industries.
“We didn’t see that across the board,” she said.
New Mexico has long struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and Terry said this actually gave the state an advantage once the pandemic hit. Terry attributed New Mexico’s high ranking to years of public health efforts to curtail addiction before the pandemic ever took hold.
Of course, the NSC acknowledged that New Mexico’s response hasn’t been perfect. Terry said the state was dinged for not having enough contact tracers, and would benefit from additional automated enforcement to curtail speeding on its roadways.
Still, among New Mexico’s neighbors, only Utah ranked as well as the Land of Enchantment overall. Terry said she hoped other Southwest states might look to New Mexico for guidance as business reopenings progress.
“For sure, there are some best practices that your regional partners can learn from,” Terry said.
Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.