Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NM face masks for indoor areas are expected to be expanded

Heather Larson wears a mask as she arranges items at Mama’s Minerals in Albuquerque in this May 2020 file photo. The New Mexico public indoor face mask requirement is likely to be extended beyond the current October 15th expiration date. (Roberto E. Rosales / Journal)

SANTA FE – The government of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is likely to extend a face mask mandate for indoor public spaces this week beyond the planned expiration date of a state health ordinance, a senior spokesman said Tuesday.

New Mexico has seen a stubbornly high number of new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in the past few weeks as a surge caused by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus has subsided but not subsided as previously hoped.

State health officials on Tuesday reported 2,433 new virus cases since Friday – around 600 new cases per day over a four-day period – and 16 additional deaths related to COVID-19.

Those deaths brought the state’s death toll to 4,885 since the March 2020 pandemic hit New Mexico. The majority of those who died were elderly residents with underlying health conditions, although the most recent deaths included three men in their thirties – one from Lea County, one from Eddy County, and one from Santa Fe County.

While some vaccinated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few weeks, most of the new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred in those who have not been vaccinated.

From early February to October 4, a total of 864 of the 924 virus-related deaths – or 93.5% – were unvaccinated residents, according to the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s mask mandate, which applies to all residents of the state regardless of their vaccination status, was reintroduced in mid-August amid the surge in new COVID-19 cases.

It’s part of a public health ordinance issued by incumbent Health Secretary David Scrase that expires on Friday. However, Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said the mandate would likely be included in an expanded – and possibly revised – arrangement.

A separate public health ordinance requiring hospital workers, law enforcement officers and other workers in group homes to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs has no set expiration date.

New Mexico was one of the first states to mandate the wearing of face coverings in public facilities when Lujan Grisham revised an earlier public health ordinance to include a mandate for face masks in May 2020.

Before the mask mandate was recently reintroduced for indoor public spaces, it was lifted for fully vaccinated people in May in order to comply with the guidelines of the federal centers for disease control and prevention.

According to the AARP, New Mexico is currently one of only seven states that mandate the wearing of masks in public places indoors. The other states are Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Hawaii.

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