SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico health officials on Friday reported 160 new coronavirus cases and eight additional deaths across the state as a legal fight simmers over Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority to enforce public health orders aimed at keeping people home and limiting the spread of the virus.
The latest data compiled by the state Health Department show the statewide total of infections at 6,625 while the death toll now stands at 302. McKinley and San Juan counties continue to account for more than half of the all the state's infections.
In southern New Mexico, Doña Ana County had 11 new cases for a total of 370. There were no new deaths in the county, which has had just two fatalities to date. In neighboring Otero County, there were 79 confirmed total cases among inmates at the county prison and 66 at the ICE processing center as of Friday.
Overall, New Mexico officials have said that a seven-day average of daily infections appears to have peaked around the start of the May and that progress has been made on several fronts toward meeting the state’s so-called gating criteria for reopening the economy.
Lujan Grisham has set a June 1 target date to restart dine-in service at restaurants and reopen gyms, hair salons and shopping malls at limited capacity. Those businesses have been shuttered since March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
About a dozen business owners and companies are challenging the governor’s authority to levy $5,000 fines for violating the public health orders. A lawsuit filed this week argues that Lujan Grisham’s administration improperly threatened businesses with the fines, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The plaintiffs argue the state Public Health Act authorizes fines of $100 or less, not the $5,000-per-day penalty cited by state officials.
The lawsuit filed in the state’s 9th Judicial District seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from threatening to impose the larger fines.
The lawsuit names Lujan Grisham, Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea and Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel as defendants.
The Republican Party of New Mexico helped organize the litigation filed by Albuquerque attorney Carter Harrison IV on behalf of the businesses and their owners.