Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham Announces New Rules for Restaurants, Businesses

Twelve Santa Fe businesses now on state watch list for COVID-19 rapid responses

With New Mexico now failing to meet five of its eight targeted gating criteria for managing COVID-19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham today announced new stricter measures for businesses.

Most notably, New Mexico businesses will now be placed on a watchlist if they have two or more rapid responses in a 14-day period. Rapid responses, overseen by the state environment department, occur when a business has an employee who tests positive. Those rapid responses—like daily cases—have been rising. For the week of Oct. 12-18, there were 832 rapid responses, an increase from 611 prior. This closure requirement will apply to food and drink establishments, close-contact businesses, retail spaces, places of lodging and other places of business presenting an extreme public health risk as determined by the Department of Health.

In addition, businesses with four rapid responses in a 14-day period will be required to close for 14 days. That rule goes into effect on Oct. 23.

Environment Secretary James Kenney said if the latter rule were currently in effect right now, 42 businesses would be required to close.

The watchlists will be sent out daily, he said, starting today, but will reset to zero when the new rule initiates Oct. 23. Today's list includes 12 Santa Fe businesses: Guy's Painting Co, New Mexico School for the Deaf, Paseo del Sol Apartments, Piccolino Italian Restaurant, Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center (Beckner Road), Sam's Club, Santa Fe Studios, Santa Fe Subaru, Target, The Teahouse, Walmart (3251 Cerrillos Road) and Whole Foods.

In addition, restaurants will only be able to continue providing indoor dining at 25% if they complete the state's safe certification program by Oct. 30. Currently, the state lists 79 restaurants statewide as having received such certification, which the governor acknowledged seemed low. Food and drink establishments also will be required to keep logbooks of customers for three weeks to help with contact tracing.

"We have to find a way to safely operate indoor dining," Lujan Grisham said, "because, again, winter is coming. If we don't figure it out, there will never be an opportunity to increase indoor dining and we know we need to find a way to do that. We think these structures are the prudent way forward."

In response to a question from SFR about the new logbook requirements for restaurants, Lujan Grisham said they would enhance outreach after positive cases are identified at restaurants. "We need to know where people are so we can get them to isolate," she said. "If we do a rapid response, we don't always know how to contact customers to tell them they might have come into contact with the virus. Getting to ground zero is complicated…I have to isolate people who are positive and I have to know who they are and I have to get people tested and the only way I can do that is if we get help knowing who those individuals are."

The state also will be targeting businesses in counties with high case numbers for spot testing.

While some of the new restrictions apply to restaurants, other provisions address retail and other businesses, which now also have a 10 pm curfew. Additionally, state-operated museums and historic sites will close on Oct. 23.

The new rules aim, officials say, at addressing concerns about hospital capacity. According to Human Services Secretary David Scrase, as of today, 81% of the state's adult general beds are occupied as are 71% of ICU beds.

"We still have room," Scrase said. "We are concerned about the next two weeks." That's because generally new cases translate into increased hospitalizations over a two-week period, which can be followed by an uptick in deaths. This holds particularly true when the COVID-19 patients are older, Scrase noted, which is of current concern given the spread across all age groups in the state.

In addition, New Mexico's spread rate, he said, is "one of the highest in the US" and the test positivity rate has almost doubled since Oct. 1.

"These numbers indicate the virus is spreading rapidly throughout our communities in New Mexico," Scrase said, "and significant caution and concern is warranted."

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales noted that he'd heard from numerous people expecting a complete lockdown to be announced today. Lujan Grisham said she remains "optimistic" that the new mitigation efforts, combined with social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, can help put New Mexico back on track.

"We're not in a good place right now. We're trending poorly and we have the ability to do something about that," she said. "If we don't do something about it, too many people will die, hospitals can't keep up and we won't be able to sustain our economic activity. The only way to do those three things productively is to triple down on our efforts. We're in this all together. Let's re-crush this virus."

The governor typically broadcasts public addresses on Facebook, but she said today technical difficulties prevented that. KOB-TV recorded and posted it here.

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