Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico’s mask mandate for indoor public settings will remain in place until at least mid-November amid a stubbornly high number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Acting state Health Secretary David Scrase on Friday issued a revised public health order that extends the statewide mask requirement – regardless of an individual’s vaccination status – through at least Nov. 12.
In a statement, Scrase said it is “not the time to abandon basic precautions,” citing the strain on New Mexico hospitals, which have been largely full in recent weeks due to a mix of COVID-19 patients and those receiving treatment for other medical issues.
“Our hospital and health care partners remain incredibly, incredibly concerned about the serious illnesses they are dealing with and the pressure placed upon their institutions and personnel by these continuing infections,” Scrase said.
State health officials had been optimistic a wave in new COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant was on the downslope, but the number of new cases and hospitalizations has instead plateaued in recent weeks.
There were 801 new cases reported Friday – including 200 in Bernalillo County and 114 in San Juan County – and 11 additional deaths. That brought the state’s death toll to 4,930.
While New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest vaccine administration rates with 71.6% of adult residents having gotten all shots necessary to be fully vaccinated, some counties have much lower vaccination rates and have seen significant virus spread over the past several months.
Meanwhile, the decision to extend the mask mandate means New Mexico will remain one of just seven states with such a requirement, according to the AARP. The other states are Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Illinois, Hawaii and Louisiana.
The mask mandate and other orders issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration have prompted criticism from Republicans, with state GOP Chairman Steve Pearce saying Friday that New Mexicans should vote out the Democratic governor in 2022.
“She has controlled New Mexicans’ lives throughout this pandemic, violating our rights and freedoms,” Pearce said in a statement. “Her actions are based on no true science but on arbitrary whims.”
Lujan Grisham has defended the mask mandate and other measures as necessary to prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming the state’s health care system and claiming more lives.
The governor also issued a revised executive order Friday that keeps in place a requirement for state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. That was already required previously, though the new order adds a provision that exempts employees who test positive for the virus from having to undergo testing for 90 days.
Lujan Grisham first issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in response to the pandemic in March 2020. That emergency order has now been renewed 22 times.