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Saturday, March 28 Education News

New Mexico bans nonessential business activity, outings

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced a sweeping new public health order that aims to keep most residents at home, prohibits public gatherings of more than five people and halts nonessential business activity that can't be done from remotely, in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor said the new restrictions, which take effect Tuesday morning, are the rough equivalent of a shelter-in-place order, carried out through the administration's authority to limit private and public business activity.

The announcement marked a sharp change in tone by the governor, who said too many people were engaging in unnecessary, risky social interactions that could lead to a spike in coronavirus infections that might overwhelm the health care system and make it impossible to attend to acute cases with respiratory problems.

“We want to not have the unmanageable spike in cases,” she said. ”The only way that we do that is putting orders like this in place.”

Positive tests increased to 83 cases, with nine hospitalizations and three people that are experiencing acute respiratory problems requiring ventilator equipment. One hospitalized patient is from Arizona. The contagion is spreading in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on its own without links to travel and outside infection.

At a news conference on the floor of the state House, Lujan Grisham said people who flout the directives may be subject to citations or possible criminal prosecution.

“Everyone in this state has a social contract for responsibility for one another," Lujan Grisham said. “Far too many New Mexicans are not doing that and are congregating in groups of well more than 10, are engaging in outdoor and social activities that create and pose risk, and are continuing to engage in retail activities that put far too many neighbors and far too many New Mexicans at risk.”

She said the new restrictions don't discourage people from leaving home to exercise outdoors or to go buy gas, food and essential supplies — but that large families should avoid shopping all together.

“Let’s do everything in our power to prevent that risk” of infection, she said. "You owe it to your family, our neighbors, your friends, your communities.”

The order primarily affects storefront retail businesses, and orders the state's nonessential workforce to perform their duties from home.

Exceptions to the restrictions are set out for health care institutions, assisted living facilities and auxiliary businesses that support them and their workers — including child care facilities. Stores that stock groceries and beverages including liquor will remain open, along with their extended supply chains. Funeral homes, laundromats and hardware stores will remain open.

At grocery stores in the state capital of Santa Fe, clerks worked Monday without protective masks or gloves as they checked out customers and stocked shelves. Lujan Grisham said those conditions increase the risk of transmission but are unlikely to change as health care centers struggle to maintain adequate supplies of gloves and masks to safeguard medical personnel.

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Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is now in line to receive additional personal protection equipment in the coming days and weeks via federal procurement and direct purchases. She blasted the federal government for early delays in spending emergency management funds on protective equipment and for pitting states against each other to compete for supplies at predatory prices.

Lujan Grisham said the suspension of K-12 classroom education is likely to extend beyond the initial three-week order, and that a special legislative session will almost certainly need to take place to rewrite the state's budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The new action follows a series of emergency public health orders that have closed down the state's indoor shopping malls, gyms and movie theaters. Officials also have eliminated dine-in service at restaurants, bars and breweries.

Hospitals are refining emergency triage plans as the state Health Department seeks to expand access to testing in rural areas.

The state also has cleared out at least half of hotel and lodging rooms statewide, leaving more provisional housing available to health care workers.

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