Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health and workplace safety officials announced new “enhanced mitigation efforts” to “crack down” on Covid-19 throughout the state, a “targeted and moderated approach that is intended to break the chain of escalating statewide infections and prevent the virus from overwhelming state hospitals without enacting wholesale business closings,” in an online address on Oct. 20. As a result, the state is bracing itself for the next round of changes.

State officials re-emphasized the renewed directive that New Mexicans should stay home except for outings essential to health, safety and welfare to the greatest extent possible to help slow the incidence and spread of Covid-19.

That directive is the most effective tool for rapidly blunting the spread of the highly infectious virus, according to the Department of Public Health.

Changes include more requirements of restaurants, including tracking the names of people who sit down to eat in them.

Debbie Goss, who owns restaurants in Moriarty and Edgewood, weighed in about what it’s like to traverse requirements of the public health order and what its like on the restaurant owner’s side of the story.

Goss said in her restaurants, State Police have stopped in to check and see if they were in compliance, she has received calls from the state health department in regards to compliance, and even gotten a compliance call from OSHA. She said they have not received any fines or had their license pulled because they have been in compliance each time.

“I find out about the updates just like everyone else, from the news,” Goss said. “No one calls us to tell us what is changing or that the governor is about to make changes.”

Cases on the Rise

Last week, the state experienced its worst week for Covid-19 infections throughout the duration of the pandemic, with the New Mexico’s new rate of spread and new case rate ranking among the highest in the United States.

The state’s positivity rate, the rolling average of new cases, and Covid-19 hospitalizations have all spiked in October following steady increases over the month of September, according to state officials.

State hospitals, which have seen a more than 100% increase in Covid-19 patients this month, have begun to experience strain; 81% of the state’s adult general hospital beds as of Oct. 20 are occupied, and 71% of the state’s ICU beds as of Oct. 20 are occupied, according to the NMDOH.

The state’s newest mitigation efforts include an a new strategy for enforcing safety requirements at food and drink establishments offering limited indoor-dining options, “a targeting of higher-risk hot-spot places of business reporting clusters of infections and a statewide mandatory closing time for retail entities among other measures,” Lujan Grisham said.

“We know shuttering businesses statewide would be devastating economically for our state. … We know a lot more about this virus than we did earlier this year. We know that spending time indoors when not at home is a primary vector for transmission. We know that spaces where individuals cannot wear masks—such as food and drink establishments—enhance the risk of transmission. … That’s why we are targeting the areas where risk is greatest and where cases are piling up—and hopefully we can sustain workers and livelihoods and beat back this virus and buy much-needed time for our health care system as we once again flatten the curve and stabilize the public health conditions in New Mexico,” she said in a press release.

New Directives

The state’s extended emergency public health order is effective on Oct. 23, and incorporates the following amendments:

Businesses that incur four “rapid responses,”—which occur when an employer reports, as required, an incidence of Covid-19 in the workplace to the state Environment Department over a two-week period—will be required to close for two weeks.

This closure requirement will apply to food and drink establishments, close-contact businesses, retail spaces, places of lodging, and other places of business deemed to present an “extreme public health risk,” as determined by the state Health Department.

All retail establishments, and food and drink establishments serving alcohol, must close by 10 p.m.

To continue to offer indoor dining at a maximum of 25% capacity, restaurants are required to complete the New Mexico Safe Certification training program, which educates workers about the state’s required and recommended Covid-Safe Practices by Oct. 30.

Those restaurants without the certification by Oct. 30 may continue to provide outdoor dine-in service at 75% of maximum occupancy with tables at least six feet apart, but may not provide indoor service.

NM Safe Certification

Restaurants must consent, as part of the certification program, to spot testing of employees by the state Department of Health. The Department of Health will prioritize spot-testing for establishments in high-risk counties where the spread of the virus is greatest.

Restaurants wishing to continue indoor dining must require customers who dine onsite to list their name and contact information in a logbook, and retain the information for no less than three weeks, to assist state regulators in contact-tracing efforts. Previously, this was only recommended.

According to Cody Johnson, spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, the New Mexico Safe Certified Program is an online training program structured to inform New Mexico businesses on Covid-safe practices to help ensure that owners and managers are operating their business safely and responsibly for customers and employees.

The certification program features training videos for all New Mexico businesses, including some for specific business sectors, as identified in the Covid-Safe Practices for Individuals and Employers. This program is administered by the New Mexico Society of Association Executives.

Once completed, businesses will become officially “New Mexico Safe Certified.”

Beyond the knowledge that owners, managers and supervisors will obtain to put Covid-safe measures into place, completion of the certification program will also provide access to the official seal and gives permission to certified businesses to promote the seal. A business directory of certified businesses is being formed, in which businesses can be included if they choose.

According to Johnson, businesses will also receive a “New Mexico Safe Certified Resource Toolkit,” which includes templates on subjects including health screening questionnaires for employees and customers, and guest check-in packets.

Businesses will also receive “The latest news about revisions and updates to the ‘All Together New Mexico: COVID-Safe Practices for Individuals and Employers,’” Johnson said, along with a digital advertising credit in New Mexico Magazine, a $250 credit per each tourism-related business that completes the NM Safe Certified training, up to a $2,000 value. To learn more, visit nmsafecertified.org.

The order also closes state museums and historical sites effective Oct 23.

The new mitigation efforts are supplemental to the state’s most recent regulations, which included a mandatory nightly closing time for food and drink establishments serving alcohol, a tighter limit on the number of people who may gather in one place and a reduced maximum occupancy for hotels and other places of lodging as a result of contact tracing identifying out-of-state travel as a top source of possible exposure, according to the governor.

Maximum occupancy restrictions remain in place for businesses and different industries and in-person entities statewide, as does the statewide requirement that all individuals wear face masks in public.

Enforcement

In her address, the governor did not specifically talk about how the new policies would be enforced.

Asked about enforcement by The Independent, Lujan Grisham’s spokesperson Nora Sackett wrote in an email, “The state has myriad enforcement mechanisms. The state licenses these businesses. Those licenses can be pulled. The state is empowered to levy fines of $5,000 a day for violations of the public health order and has done so on many occasions. That has been reported on frequently in the press. The policies and enforcement are not inconsistent.”

Goss said that she has already taken the state certification test for her restaurants, as she looked into it about a month ago. She said the process was free and took about half an hour, describing it as a series of short videos that reiterate what the governor, the Health Department and the CDC have recommended and defined as Covid-safe practices.

She said she didn’t learn anything from the certification process that she hasn’t already seen online or heard on the news, adding that all of her employees will complete the certification as well.

Goss also said she will be continuing to comply with the state’s requirements and will be using a contract-tracing log as per the latest updates require.

Tamara Bicknell-Lombardi
Tamara Bicknell-Lombardi

Tamara has worked for The Independent off and on for several years, as an integral part of this family
business. She currently does reporting, manages the ad sales team, and serves as office manager. She is
an artist, working primarily in oil paints.