New Mexico announces $100 fines for flouting face mask rule
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday said there will be more aggressive enforcement of the state’s public health order, including individual fines, to rein in rising coronavirus infection rates across the state.
The Democratic governor said people who ignore mask requirements in public places can be fined $100 and that businesses that flout the health order will see workplace citations and misdemeanor criminal charges.
Three new deaths linked to the coronavirus brought the statewide death toll to 500 since the outbreak of the pandemic in March. Health officials stressed their concerns about an increase in the rate of spread, particularly in the southeast area of the state near Texas and in the Albuquerque area.
Lujan Grisham urged people to forgo family gatherings and public celebrations on Independence Day and warned that infection trends could interfere with efforts to resume classes at public schools.
The state is holding off on changes to its public health order until July 15, after reopening restaurants and breweries at partial capacity in June.
“The children of this state and the students deserve a chance to go back to school,” the governor said. “They deserve an education ... the kind of social experiences that they’re not garnering because of this pandemic if we don’t get this right.”
New Mexico is re-applying a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all out-of-state visitors, the governor announced.
“We’re going to do enforcement and hold people accountable,” Lujan Grisham said. “If you’re flying in, you’re quarantined. If you want to drive here for vacationing, you’re quarantined in your room.”
Health officials stopped short of reinstating prior restrictions, even as California closed bars, theaters and restaurant dining in most of the state. Confirmed cases in California have increased nearly 50% over the past two weeks.
The rise was less pronounced in New Mexico, where the number of known infections increased by 130 on Wednesday to 12,276. That tally represents a 12% increase from 10,990 cases a week ago.
“The last five or six days have been particularly steep,” Human Services Secretary David Scrase said. “This means that the things we did to reopen back in late May, early June were not sufficiently countered by actions we all took” to contain COVID-19.
Scrase said out-of-state travel by New Mexico residents appears to be a contributing factor, as Arizona and Texas grapple with infection surges. Nearly one in 10 people who have tested positive had traveled outside the state, Scrase said.
Lujan Grisham said New Mexico has agreed to participate in a federal effort to dramatically boost U.S. screening for the coronavirus through pooled testing that combines test samples into batches. The commitment stems from a visit this week by Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.
At the same time, the governor faulted federal authorities for failing to take effective action to contain the virus.
“There is no federal strategy,” Lujan Grisham said. “If the federal strategy early in this pandemic had been to require all Americans to wear masks, more things would be open, fewer people would die, and the rate of infection and transmission for the entire country would be much lower.”
Dozens of coronavirus tests were done over the weekend on student-athletes, coaches and staff in preparation for the start of voluntary workouts at the University of New Mexico, according to Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez. He said one test was positive.
At New Mexico State University, six student-athletes and a trainer recently tested positive, prompting school officials to temporarily shut down a weight training center on campus.