SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico will ease restrictions on some mass gatherings and business activities in response to a gradual decline in average daily Covid-19 cases and deaths statewide, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
As of Thursday, state health officials had identified 24,920 positive cases (190 additional) and 755 deaths (9 additional) linked to the pandemic.
Those nine latest deaths in the state included a woman in her 70s who had been a resident of the Welbrook Senior Living facility in Las Cruces. There were also 20 new cases in Doña Ana County Thursday for a total of 2,772.
Lujan Grisham held an afternoon news conference (you can watch it in its entirety at the end of this article) to review amendments to public health orders that will still mandate face masks in public and require long-distance travelers to self-quarantine.
Changes that take effect Saturday will allow people to dine indoors at restaurants in limited numbers (25% capacity) for the first time since mid-July. And slightly more people (40% capacity) will be able to congregate at houses of worship for religious services.
Other changes will allow larger public gatherings of up to 10 people (instead of the current four) and provide limited access to museums with static displays (25% capacity).
Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase likened the gradual reopening to slowly twisting a dimmer switch on a light fixture.
“We just want to open up a little bit. We want to be very careful,” Scrase said. “We tried this before. It didn't work so well."
At the same time, the state's top education official announced that a post-Labor Day return to part-time classroom learning for elementary school students will be limited to counties with low average rates of Covid-19 infection and positivity rates on virus testing.
Currently, public school classrooms are closed across the state as students follow lessons from home using remote technology that runs the gamut from live video-conference meetings to telephone calls.
“As we’re looking at bringing students back after Labor Day, we are only bringing students back that are in these green zones,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.
To reopen classrooms, counties must have fewer than eight new daily cases on average per 100,000 residents, and positivity rate under 5%. The statewide average positivity rate is 2.1% — the lowest in the western U.S.
If applied today, the threshold would allow southern New Mexico's Doña Ana and Otero counties to participate in classroom returns. However, the Las Cruces Public Schools previously indicated it would likely opt to continue remote learning anyway.
The state's Public Education Department is reviewing re-entry plans that can introduce some classroom learning Sept. 8 on a rotating basis for K-5 students.
The state provides a universal opt-out for families who are not yet comfortable with returning their children to classrooms. Stewart said schools that seek to reopen classrooms must provide effective plans to rapidly respond to virus infections by quickly closing areas, tracing exposure, cleaning and eventually reopening again.