Health Secretary: Restaurants, Bars Must Stay Half Empty

New rules modify previous order on public gatherings

Starting at 9 am, tomorrow, Monday, March 16, restaurants, bars and all food establishments must remain at no greater than 50% maximum seating occupancy and capacity.

At bars, people are no longer allowed to be seated; tables and booths can't seat more than six people; and all tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet.

New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced the new rules on Sunday, which amend a previous directive banning all public events with more than 100 people.

The state announced six new cases over the weekend, bringing New Mexico's total cases to 17, as well as new closures and directives for state employees and nursing homes.

"The best thing New Mexicans can do right now is self-isolate and limit person-to-person contact," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release. "We all have to pull together in this effort. Keep washing your hands with soap and water regularly. Stay at home. Remember your neighbors and buy only what you need when you are shopping."

The amended order also says that all casinos and horse racing facilities must close until April 10, but does not apply to casinos operating on tribal lands.

Pojoaque Pueblo announced earlier in the day that its three casinos would close indefinitely starting at 4 am Monday. Many area restaurants have already begun encouraging patrons to use curbside carry-out options.

Kohnami Japanese restaurant made the shift on Friday, opting to offer take-out only.

"We are optimistic about our restaurant and are making these temporary changes to ensure the safety of our community and long-time patrons, as well as to protect our loyal employees," read a statement from manager Aaron Moskowitz.

He told SFR late Sunday that the restaurant is taking orders by phone as well as working with delivery apps and launching a new website this week.

"We're doing it because a lot of our customers are in the demographic we're concerned about, and we already have a robust takeout menu," Moskowitz said. "The restaurants that are surviving are going to be the ones that are doing curbside service, and we hope a lot of the other restaurants can do the same and we can work together."

The Violet Crown cinema also decided before the formal order to reduce the number of tickets for each show to half capacity and to leave empty seats between sold ones.

"We have reduced our on-sale seat count by 50% in all of our auditoriums to create distancing, as many health organizations have encouraged social distancing. While we encourage maintaining social distance in our auditoriums, we will not prevent families and friends from electing to sit next to each other," read a statement from theater general manager Peter Grendle.

Grendle told SFR shortly after the new rules were issued Sunday night that the theater still had a little work to do.

"Now we are going to take away some seats from the bar and make sure we've got 6 feet between tables," he said. "What we've done is we've checkerboard the theater seats, and in the lobby area we are moving furniture around to make sure we've got that good clearance so we can can comply with that order for 9 am tomorrow. … And we are cleaning like crazy. This is something we do daily anyway, we always sanitize our seats and tables between each show."

New Mexicans with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, should call their health care provider or the NMDOH COVID-19 hotline immediately: 1-855-600-345

New Mexicans who have non-health-related questions or concerns can also call 833-551-0518  or visit

Officials in Ohio, Illinois and New York were among those to make more strict restaurant rules over the weekend.

Alex De Vore and Julie Ann Grimm contributed to this report. 

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.