New Mexico allows more people in businesses in cold weather

December 16, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More people will be allowed inside grocery stores and other essential businesses as New Mexico on Wednesday amended its public health order on the coronavirus to address waiting lines as frigid temperatures take hold across the state.

Lines have formed outside grocery stores and other retailers for weeks following Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order that capacity be limited at establishments as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19. She has said the tough measures have helped to reduce new infections. However, deaths and hospitalizations related to the pandemic remain high.


“With colder weather here, we want to ensure that people aren’t gathering in lines for an unsafe length of time, especially in communities where there are fewer retail options for essential needs,” the first-term Democratic governor said.

Still in effect is the state’s color-coded system for classifying counties based on the rate of spread and setting benchmarks they must meet in order to begin easing restrictions. All 33 counties are in the red high-risk category.

Under the change, grocery stores and other essential retailers will be allowed to operate at 25% of maximum occupancy if they are in the red zone. Previously, essential retail spaces could operate with either a limit on maximum occupancy or a specific number of customers at one time, whichever was smaller.

Capacity will incrementally increase as counties move up to yellow and green tiers, but some municipal leaders have acknowledged it could be months before more populated areas such as Albuquerque and Las Cruces see improvements.

The change took effect Wednesday, as thousands of residents in New Mexico who are collecting unemployment benefits began receiving an extra $1,200 state stimulus in their payments.

The payments are being made to about 130,000 people who qualified for benefits in late November and early December and to people who exhausted their benefits between Sept. 12 and Nov. 5.

About 12,000 payments were distributed Monday via paper checks, direct deposits or debit cards. More disbursements are scheduled Dec. 22 and Dec. 28.

The additional payments are part of the $330 million economic relief package passed Nov. 24 by the state Legislature to help residents and small-business owners who have struggled during the pandemic.

Total confirmed COVID-19 infections in New Mexico since the pandemic began was nearly 125,000, with an additional 1,816 cases reported Wednesday. Another 43 deaths also were reported, bringing the statewide total to 2,049.

State officials expressed hope this week that distribution of the first batch of 17,550 vaccinations to hospitals around the state and some tribal communities marks the beginning of a turning point.

Frontline health care workers are the first in line to be vaccinated, followed by staff and residents at long-term care facilities. Plans have yet to be made for which groups of people will come next.

State officials confirmed that of the 18 shipments sent to New Mexico hospitals on Tuesday, one shipment of 75 doses had to be discarded after a digital device showed it overheated while being transported to a hospital in Clayton. Officials said the problem could have been a malfunction of the device used to track the temperature rather than faulty packaging.