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Limited indoor dining to resume for New Mexico restaurants

August 26, 2020 GMT
A maintenance worker power-washes the state seal at an entrance of the capitol building on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The building has been closed to the public since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative meetings and gubernatorial addresses are broadcast online. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A maintenance worker power-washes the state seal at an entrance of the capitol building on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The building has been closed to the public since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative meetings and gubernatorial addresses are broadcast online. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday she will relax some public health mandates imposed because of the coronavirus, citing recent progress in slowing the outbreak in New Mexico.

Under the changes to be announced Thursday, limited indoor dining will be allowed to resume at food and drink establishments across the state and the capacity allowed at houses of worship will rise to 40% from 25% starting Saturday.

Average daily COVID-19 case totals have declined recently in New Mexico, testing capacity is meeting targets, hospitalizations have been low and the rate of spread statewide has been below the target, state officials have said.

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“I know New Mexicans are ecstatic about our recent progress against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “But, given what we know about this virus, we must sound a note of caution: Our progress is only as good as our willingness to stay the course. This virus is still looking for opportunities to spread.”

She urged people to continue following the state’s COVID-safe practices — from washing hands and wearing masks to refraining from gathering with other people and staying home as much as possible.

The governor’s office said the amended emergency public health order lifting restrictions will be effective through at least mid-September. A current public health order prohibiting all indoor dining will expire Friday.

When indoor restaurant space was ordered closed earlier this summer, The Pantry in Santa Fe was among the restaurants competing to rent tents. General manager Tupper Schoen said the restaurant was lucky because someone in their organization had one in a storage locker.

Patio diners and pickup orders are keeping the restaurant afloat for now, but staff were furloughed.

Schoen said no New Mexico sit-down restaurants have been making profits during the pandemic but that employees have been hurt the most.

“Their wages have been cut down to almost nothing,” he said. “And in our situation — and most restaurants — they’ve had to reduce all of their kitchen personnel hours just to limp along. It’s been very, very difficult.”

State health officials have reported more than 24,730 confirmed cases and 755 deaths since the pandemic began. That includes 205 additional cases reported Wednesday.

Statistical modeling by the Health Department estimates that the virus has spread a little more quickly recently. The spread rate increased slightly from last week but still fell within targets.

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New Mexico is falling short of a benchmark set for how long it takes to notify and quarantine people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The state’s target is to reach people within 36 hours of a contact testing positive to alert them about possible exposure.

The Health Department reported about two weeks ago that it was taking 29 hours to isolate a person’s contacts after a positive test, but that figure ballooned to 47 hours in an update made public Tuesday.

“It’s critical that we are able to communicate with those that have tested positive and also to communicate with their contacts,” Jodi McGinnis Porter of the Human Services Department said in a written statement to the Albuquerque Journal.

She added: “It’s really important that people provide accurate information for contact tracers to communicate with them.”

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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 undercovered issues.