On April 22, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she was extending the quarantine orders to May 15. The order was set to expire May 1. She also announced that New Mexico has “flattened the curve” and is on track to avoid a shortage of hospital beds as it confronts the coronavirus outbreak. According to the Governor, state officials will begin easing up on business restrictions with a “phase in” process. The governor did not say specifically when closed businesses might be allowed to reopen. During her April 22 press conference, the governor acknowledged the state-ordered business closures have taken a toll on workers and business owners alike. She also said some stores may not be able to reopen due to financial reasons.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY COUNCIL
Lujan Grisham has appointed a 15-member Economic Recovery Council which will provide the Governor’s Office with advice about a “slow reopening” of the state’s economy. She also made is clear that New Mexicans should not expect life to go back to normal any time soon. Large public gatherings will likely not be allowed for the foreseeable future and restaurants are still limited to take out order. Wearing masks and gloves in public will also be likely encouraged for months to come.
The 15-member Economic Recovery Council appointed by the governor will include major business and health leaders from across the state. The council will include industries hit hard by the pandemic including entertainment, hospitality, oil and gas, agriculture and banking. The group will be co-chaired by former state Representative Brian Moore of Clayton, a grocery store owner who worked in the previous Republican administration. Council members include Guadalupe Regional Hospital Administrator Christina Campos of Santa Rosa, Brian O’Leary of NBC/Universal, Peter Trevisani of New Mexico United professional soccer team among others. The council will help the governor decide when and what to open in New Mexico.
The Recovery Council will have its work cut out for it. The Governor is now being pressured to reopen the state for business by Republican legislators, Chambers of Commerce, and business owners. The Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce told the Governor that considering the low number of COVID-19 cases in the county all businesses in the eastern New Mexico county should be allowed to reopen with safeguards. The Rio Grande Foundation is calling for the Governor to allow churches to reopen with social distancing measures, along with golf courses, gun stores and state parks.
Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said her group is working with state health officials to come up with rules under which restaurants can safely operate and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. New Mexico restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard. According to statistics released, 47,000 of the 71,700 people employed at New Mexico restaurants have been laid off or furloughed.
According to the Governor’s Office, flower shops and nurseries will be allowed to resume curbside pickup and delivery. Other types of businesses could be allowed to reopen in the coming days, though they will remain under restriction reading distancing and person-to-person contact. No indication was given when restaurants will be allowed to reopen for full sit-down services. Hospitals around the state will be allowed to resume elective procedures but only once certain criteria are met.
GOVERNOR’S PLAN TO REOPEN THE ECONOMY
The increase in coronavirus testing capacity is a major requirement to allow a slow reopening of New Mexico’s economy. According to Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel there are 64 testing sites spread across all 33 New Mexico counties. New Mexico ranks among the best in the nation in testing.
The timeline for the state’s phased in reopening plan will depend on when certain criteria are met. Social distancing measures will be mandated to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said that without social distancing, it doesn’t matter how much testing you do, the virus will still spread.
The phase-in reopening of the economy plan will include a timeline based on performance against criteria. Social distancing will continue to be a crtical component. The Governor’s “phase in” business reopening plan includes at least 3 major phases:
– All individuals instructed to stay home
– Industry Councils to develop COVID safe practices (CSP)
– Define how businesses will protect employees and customers
– Vulnerable individuals instructed to stay home
– Some non-essential businesses permitted to reopen in compliance with CSPs.
– Certain businesses will still be closed
Phase Two and Beyond
– Additional businesses permitted to reopen in compliance with CSPs.
– Larger gatherings and events still restricted for the foreseeable future
– Other changes TBD
Governor Lujan Grisham has announced that she will convene a special session of the New Mexico Legislature I mid June.
CITY PLANS TO REOPEN IN MAY
Albuquerque is subject to statewide stay-at-home orders that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has now said she is extending to May 15. Meanwhile on April 23, Mayor Tim Keller says he is “confident” businesses in the city will begin reopening sometime in May. Keller and Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael cautioned that that progress in reopening the city for business will likely occur in “fits and starts” and that it may not always track with the rest of the state.
Both Keller and Rael also made it clear that normalcy is still a long way off. Summerfest activities through the end of June have been cancelled and the city just wind up cancelling the Fourth of July celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park but are thinking of ways to accommodate social distancing such attendees watching fireworks from their cars.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has closed nonessential businesses, severely restricted activity at hotels and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery orders. Since the COVID-19 crisis reached New Mexico, Keller has had daily press briefings and has routinely distinguished Albuquerque from the rest of the state. Albuquerque is clearly different from the rest of the state as to its population density and facilities such as the airport, hospitals and shopping malls. When the Governor loosens or lifts restrictions, Keller said he could make different decisions for Albuquerque, including extending closures if he deems it necessary.
Keller, during his April 23 briefing, said the city may take a “staggered” approach that may require incremental steps such as lifting some restrictions then waiting a week to see the results before taking additional action. Keller did warn that there will be “relapses,” such as an outbreak at a business that has reopened, that forces it to close once again for testing and contact tracing. The Mayor said the goal is to avoid that on a large scale so that the overall economy can keep advancing and the health care system maintains capacity.
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