New Mexico extends stay-at-home order as coronavirus surges
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has extended its stay-at-home health order with minor revisions through the end of August in response to a surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday.
The governor credited the surge for scuttling plans to roll back restrictions on everything from visiting loved ones in special care facilities to reopening in-person classes in public schools.
While a newly formed state childcare agency is looking to expand daycares, parents can expect a shortage of child care as long as schools remain closed.
“Without everyone being able to go back to school in person, I have no doubt that we’re going to fall short on meeting everyone’s needs and childcare, including making sure that we have the right childcare subsidies for everyone,” Lujan Grisham said.
Lujan Grisham also admonished local leaders following reports that they are flouting state public health orders, including sheriff’s deputies who refuse to wear masks in courthouses and are causing concern among prospective jurors.
”I find it appalling that any local leader or any law enforcement entity would just say you ’can’t make us,’” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor added she was “incredibly disappointed” to learn that in Roswell, the city council has met without wearing masks and resolved not to enforce the state health orders.
Television station KRQE reports that an ordinance passed in Roswell aims to reclassify some indoor spaces as outdoor spaces if they could leave windows open.
“I don’t see in what universe they can change the definition of indoor versus outdoor,” Lujan Grisham said, adding that city ordinances protect them from being shut down.
Lujan Grisham said that state regulatory agencies have revoked 49 food permits or business licenses in response to violations of the health order. State Police have responded to 4,500 complaints of violations by people and businesses.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico increased by 255 on Thursday to 20,388 since the outbreak of the pandemic. Three new virus-related deaths were reported, increasing that figure to 635 statewide.
The governor has delayed re-entry to school classrooms until at least Sept. 7 and rolled back plans to reopen the economy by restoring a ban on indoor restaurant service and requiring a 14-day self-quarantine as travelers enter or return to New Mexico.
Students with special needs and those in kindergarten through third grade who have the most learning needs could be allowed to meet one-on-one with teachers or in small groups prior to Sept. 7.
Republican elected officials and restaurants are waging a legal battle against the governor over recent health restrictions aimed at stopping the virus.
Face masks are required in all public places, and Lujan Grisham previously urged law enforcement to issue citations to individuals who deliberately flout the rule.
On Thursday, Lujan Grisham said she is gravely concerned about the expiration this week of a $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits, blaming Republicans in the U.S. Senate for delays in negotiating an extension. The state provides a maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $461.
“You can’t live on that amount of money and $600 was critical,” Lujan Grisham said.
State House Republican leader Jim Townsend took a swipe at the governor Thursday.
“Today, the Governor and her staff made it clear that New Mexican voices and opinions do not matter as long as she has her emergency powers. We look to our state leaders for hope and guidance, yet this administration has made it clear that national politics and party standing is more important than you or me as New Mexicans,” said Townsend, of Artesia.
State labor authorities are approving unemployment benefits automatically for people who don’t return to work because of their advanced age or for a variety of serious medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Workforce Solutions Department Secretary Bill McCamley on Thursday said people 65 and older and other “high-risk workers” should consider not returning to work immediately because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other documented health conditions will automatically qualify workers for unemployment benefits. They include chronic lung disease, severe asthma, severe obesity, diabetes and a serious heart issue. People 65 and over need not submit additional paperwork.
In an online video workshop, McCamley emphasized shared responsibility among employers and workers when it comes to safety precautions at businesses. New Mexico has created a certification process for businesses that complete coronavirus safety training.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed reporting for this story.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.