Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has issued a new public health order that suspends operations for all non-essential businesses and non-profits, while also clarifying which businesses are considered essential.
Monday's order—effective at 8 am Tuesday, March 24—closes all non-essential businesses, requiring 100% of the state's non-essential workforce to work from home. The order also specifically makes clear which businesses count as essential: generally, grocery stores, health care providers, pharmacies, among them. A full list is available here.
The governor also halved the number of people who can gather at once from 10 to five. According to a new release, the state has ramped up surveillance of businesses to ensure compliance and violators of the public health order could lose their licenses to operate and face civil or criminal penalties. Moreover, the state's non-health hotline (1-833-551-0518) will now provide an opportunity for people to report non-compliance, which could result in civil or criminal fines.
"If we limit person-to-person contact, we will be doing everything in our power to stop the spread or slow it in the state of New Mexico," Lujan Grisham said. The order applies to families with more than five relatives, she said, who can't go out in groups larger than five.
The new order comes as the state reports 18 new cases, bringing the state total to 83, spread across 11 counties. According to Grisham, nine of the people who tested positively for the virus were hospitalized, with three requiring intubation and five remaining hospitalized. The state has not had any deaths. Also on Monday, Kirtland Air Force Base reported three positive adult cases of COVID-19 for two military members and one spouse. According to a Kirtland news release, these cases are associated with out-of-state travel and the individuals are in self-isolation.
The governor and health officials expect the number of cases to grow.
"In New Mexico, we're going to see more cases," Lujan Grisham said. "We have community spread. The goal is to minimize that spread and do as much as we can to just keep you isolated…I want everyone to be clear: There are many deaths around the world and around the country related to COVID-19, let's do everything in our power to prevent that risk, to minimize that reality. You owe to your families, your neighbors, your friends, your communities. Only you can do that."
Deputy state epidemiologist Chad Smelser said that while the majority of the state's cases are travel-related, some don't have a known connection to either a place or person that explains the infection. These are the so-called "community spread" cases and they have happened in two counties: Santa Fe, which has 12 total cases, and Bernalillo, which has 38.
Officials say they also have been in communication with hospitals and health care providers to discuss "best practices" and lay in contingency plans should more hospital space be required. Lujan Grisham said she has had two conversations today with the White House and ongoing conversations with the congressional delegation regarding securing more personal protective equipment for hospitals and health care providers.
She also hopes to ramp up state testing in order to be able to do thousands daily. Currently, she said, the state has the capacity to test approximately 850 people each day. Thus far, the state has performed 5,973 tests.
Lujan Grisham said the new rules are needed because "too many New Mexicans" continue to congregate in groups larger than 10, and some "are continuing to engage in retail activities that put far too many of your neighbors and far too many New Mexicans at risk." Without curtailing the virus' transmission, she said, "you have uncontrollable spread." And while some who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, others will need hospitalization and still some will need life-saving equipment and care.
"I don't think people are thinking about this in the right way," the governor said. "If we don't limit it, who's going to stock your grocery stores? Who's going to be in the emergency room? Who's going to provide child care to first responders like firefighters and police officers? Who's going to respond to your neighborhood if there's a fire? If we don't protect the very people we need for our everyday services, then they're not able to provide those essential services to you. I need you to heed this order and I need every New Mexican to do their part."
Additional restrictions and public health precautions at New Mexico courthouses also were ordered today by the state Supreme Court to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
"Courts recognize that extraordinary steps are necessary to protect public safety and the health of New Mexicans. Our courts must continue to provide essential services in the justice system," Chief Justice Judith K Nakamura said in a news release.
Although the state limits on "mass gatherings do not apply to courthouses because courts provide essential services, the courts will limit the number of people to no more than 15 in courtrooms and other locations inside a courthouse. Previously, the restriction was 25 or fewer people. Judges are required to conduct audio and video teleconferencing for civil and criminal proceedings, except when an emergency requires in-person appearances. Courts are using Google Meet to facilitate teleconferencing because users can access the free service by creating a Google email account. Since the state declared a public health emergency, judges and litigants have been encouraged to use teleconferencing when possible.
Lujan Grisham said she expects a special legislative session will be required to address the economic impact of COVID-19, but that it would be premature to call one before Congress passes a relief package and the state has come through current social distancing restrictions. She thought perhaps July would present the best opportunity. She also said she anticipate public schools—closed through April 6—will need to remain closed longer.
The governor also acknowledged the challenges created by the economic shut-down and the uncertainty many are facing. "This is painful," she said. "These are hardships that are unimaginable."