Calling it “a pivotal moment in the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday decreed that New Mexico would re-implement a statewide requirement that face masks be worn in all public indoor spaces, with only limited exceptions — regardless of vaccination status — to stem the state’s rising tide of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
The re-implemented mask requirement applies to everyone ages 2 and older in all indoor public settings — except when eating or drinking. The requirement became effective Friday and remains in effect until at least Sept. 15.
Lujan Grisham also announced that the state will issue a requirement for all workers in certain medical and close-contact congregate settings — including hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile justice facilities, rehabilitation facilities and state correctional facilities — to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She allowed for limited medical, disability and religious exemptions, but people with those must get COVID tests weekly, according to the public-health order.
Plus, the state also issued a requirement that all workers at private, public and charter schools in New Mexico either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to COVID-19 testing weekly. This policy aligns with the rule for all state government personnel.
According to a state news release, “COVID-19 in New Mexico has spread dramatically in recent weeks, driven by the highly infectious ‘Delta’ variant,” and primarily hitting unvaccinated people. Modeling predicts New Mexico will reach 1,000 new cases daily by the end of August, and as many as 1,000 new cases daily in southeastern New Mexico alone in the weeks following.
“We all have a role to play,” Lujan Grisham said. “No one wants to go backward. No one wants to see our recovery endangered by another — and preventable – surge of serious illness. No one wants a full hospital turning away New Mexicans who need care.”
Under the new orders, everyone in school buildings must wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, as the most recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
New Mexico is the second state to temporarily re-institute a blanket mask requirement, after Louisiana. Nevada implemented a mask mandate for counties with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission.
“We all want the pandemic to be over,” said Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase. “But the virus has its own timeline. And the virus has mutated. At this stage, the Delta variant makes up virtually 100 percent of new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico. This variant spreads up to four times more rapidly than the virus we were dealing with last year.
“The good news is that vaccines work in preventing serious illness and death from a COVID-19 infection. The bad news is that the virus is still spreading and seriously harming unvaccinated people, and this means unsustainable strain in our hospital system,” Scrase said. “A mask helps stop the spread. Please do your part and help New Mexico stay on the right track: Mask up and get your shots.”
Media update gets more dire news
During a media availability Thursday morning, Presbyterian Healthcare Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Mitchell said modeling is showing “the highest spike we’ve ever had,” but “There is unlimited vaccine across the state right now.”
“Ninety-nine percent of people getting COVID now are unvaccinated,” Mitchell said.
Hospitals are overcrowded, not just from COVID patients but from others who delayed their requisite care during the first year or so of the pandemic.
“We do have the ability to control this,” added Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval. “People that are unvaccinated are at the risk of hospitalization and death.”
The Delta variant, Mitchell said, “is extremely contagious,” with one infected person, who could have spread the “original COVID” virus to two people, now capable of spreading it to six people.
“The vast majority of health-care workers are already vaccinated,” Mitchell said, in light of recent worries that those in the medical field could choose to leave the state if they prefer not to be vaccinated.
Urgent call for nurses statewide
The New Mexico Department of Health is working to strengthen the nurse workforce at hospitals statewide. Due to the increase in hospitalizations across the state, nurses and anyone with a medical license — including recently retired health-care personnel with an active license — are asked to volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps.
That group maintains New Mexico’s statewide registry of volunteer health-care providers and support personnel.
“To get through this together, we need everyone who can provide patient care to work side by side with us during this critical time,” Scrase said.
For more information, contact state MRC Volunteer Coordinator Bobbie MacKenzie at [email protected].