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New Mexico hits 500 virus deaths; governor halts reopening, orders visitor quarantine, mask crackdown

SANTA FE, New Mexico –  New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there will now be more "aggressive enforcement" of the state’s public health orders, including individual fines for not wearing masks and quarantines for those traveling into the state.

The governor on Wednesday said the steps were necessary to rein in the rising coronavirus infection rate, warning that the state was at "grave risk" of moving backwards in the progress it had made. (You can watch the governor's entire news conference in the video player at the end of this article.)

"The rate of infection is way too high with very concerning increases," in all parts of the state, but particularly in the southeast area near Texas, she said. "We can't reopen if we don't flatten the curve."

As a result, she said all further re-starting of the state's economy is on hold until at least July 15. The governor also said in a week or so, if conditions don't improve, she may be forced to halt indoor dining and close gyms as well as rollback occupancy limits for retail stores and churches.

In addition, she indicated plans to reopen schools in the fall could be in jeopardy.

Lujan Grisham said there were too many people ignoring the state's mandatory face covering requirement and vowed there would be stepped up enforcement. She said business must require customers to wear masks or they will see workplace citations and face misdemeanor criminal charges, while individuals out in public without a mask will be fined $100.

Also, the governor ordered a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all out-of-state visitors arriving in New Mexico, whether coming into the state by air or by road. The one key exception is for those who cross into New Mexico to work at an essential business.

"We’re going to do enforcement and hold people accountable,” Lujan Grisham said. “If you’re flying in, you’re quarantined. If you want to drive here for vacationing, you’re quarantined in your room."

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said out-of-state travelers by New appeared to be a contributing factor to the 12% increase in the state's infections from a week ago, as adjacent Arizona and Texas grapple with infection surges.

"The trends in our state are endangering our lives and our livelihoods," said Lujan Grisham as she noted that New Mexico had reached the grim milestone of 500 deaths, with three new fatalities reported Wednesday.

There were 130 new cases to take the total of confirmed infections to 12,276. In southern New Mexico, nine of those new cases occurred in Dona Ana County while there were three additional cases in Otero County, with one apiece among a prison inmate, an ICE detainee and a resident.

Currently there are 127 New Mexicans hospitalized with 38 of those patients on ventilators.

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico has agreed to participate in a federal effort to dramatically boost U.S. screening for the coronavirus through pooled testing that combines test samples into batches. The commitment stems from a visit this week by Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.

At the same time, the governor faulted federal authorities for failing to take effective action to contain the virus.

“There is no federal strategy,” Lujan Grisham said. “If the federal strategy early in this pandemic had been to require all Americans to wear masks, more things would be open, fewer people would die, and the rate of infection and transmission for the entire country would be much lower.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the former Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.


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