Following a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced an indoor mask mandate. The mandate is expected to last through at least September 15.
“We now are reinstating an indoor mask requirement for any indoor activity,” Lujan Grisham said. “Outdoors, not required, it doesn't matter. Indoors, whether you're vaccinated or not, it's a universal policy.”
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen significantly over the last few weeks, jumping from 180 on August 3, to over 340 on August 17. Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, says that a large portion of hospitalizations have occurred within the unvaccinated population, stressing that hospitalizations are 25 times more likely among the unvaccinated.
“Part of that flattening of the curve is the public reaction to all of this, but I am just very, very concerned about what's going to happen in hospitals in the next three to four weeks and so are all the people who run them,” Scrase said.
He says current modeling suggests that all New Mexicans, even the vaccinated, should wear masks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, specifically highlighting schools.
“The model where vaccinated people don't have to wear masks actually produces 400 more cases a day throughout all of New Mexico, not just in schools, all through New Mexico, then if we let the kids who have been vaccinated not wear masks,” Scrase said.
The state also introduced vaccination requirements for hospital workers and those in congregate care settings like nursing homes. Unvaccinated employees have a ten-day window to get their first COVID-19 shot. The NMDOH estimates that over 27,000 New Mexico healthcare workers still need to be vaccinated.
Governor Lujan Grisham says that while she’s aware mandatory vaccination requirements can lead to employee pushback, the state must do all it can to ensure a safe environment within healthcare facilities.
“Across the country and including in New Mexico, we have the escalation of anger among employees about what's occurring, and we need to de-escalate that,” Lujan Grisham said. “This has become, and it shouldn't have ever, still way too political without facts and science being available to even healthcare workers.”
She says her top priority is protecting both health care personnel and New Mexican residents.
“Make no mistake, we are in a terrible place for health care services and for protecting our health care workers,” Lujan Grisham. “And too many New Mexicans, again, are going to lose their lives, or have long term chronic illnesses, because of the rate of spread of COVID.”
The governor says that further restrictions, such as capacity requirements and travel constraints, are not expected at this time. Her goal is that an increase in vaccinations and mask-wearing will allow COVID cases to decline by winter.
“We're going to continue to climb, and these issues are going to be exacerbated, which is why we're making tough, but necessary decisions right now,” Lujan Grisham said. “My hope is that New Mexico can be the most vaccinated place on Earth, and we eradicate to the highest degree that you can…I don't foresee that we have to utilize other tools.”