New Mexico's New Public Order: On Saturday, Everyone Must Wear A Face Covering; More Businesses Open

May 13, 2020

Credit Albuquerque Journal / Pool photo

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new public health order taking effect on Saturday.  New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase said that reopening is a 15 to 18 month walk on a “tightrope, not an open door.”

On Saturday, May 16th, everyone will be required to wear a face covering in public.  People will not have to wear a face covering while eating, drinking or exercising. 

The “stay at home” order continues, as does the ban on gatherings.  Social distancing is also required:  staying at least six feet away from others.

The order opens most retailers and non-essential businesses Saturday at 25 percent capacity; 20 percent capacity for “big box” retailers and grocery stores.

Houses of worship may operate at 10% capacity.

Entertainment venues like movie theaters, amusement parks, and concert halls remain closed.

The openings do not apply in McKinley, Cibola, or San Juan Counties.

Businesses that open will have to provide face coverings for employees, regular sanitation, and maintain curbside pickup and delivery where possible. 

The Governor announced the state hopes to open additional businesses in early June, but a decision has not yet been made. These include salons, barbers, gyms, indoor malls, and dine-in restaurants with limited capacity.

In-person summer programs and sports camps will be restricted to a 5-to-1 child to adult ratio.  In addition, children must live in the geographic area of the program.  Only sports programs without personal contact will be allowed and only non-competitive play.

The rate of spread in New Mexico has declined, according to state officials.  At 1.16, it is just above the state’s target of 1.15.  This means that each person who tests positive infects approximately one other person.

The rate of spread in the southwestern part of the state was 1.23.  Officials say they are watching that number closely and need more data to determine if it’s reason for alarm.  The rate of spread is highest in the northwestern part of the state at 1.31. 

New Mexico now has more than 5300 positive cases and 231 deaths. 12 new deaths were reported on Wednesday.

From the office of the New Mexico Governor:  SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials on Wednesday announced New Mexico’s emergency public health order, set to expire May 15, will be extended through May 31 and modified to allow most retailers to operate at 25 percent of their maximum occupancy as determined by fire code.

Other public health emergency changes include a requirement, beginning Saturday, that everyone wear face coverings in public, with exceptions for eating, drinking and exercising. Under the expiring order, only retail workers were required to wear face coverings.  

The changes are part of New Mexico’s phased plan for a safe and gradual reopening based on “gating criteria” that show a generally decreasing transmission rate, adequate testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity, and adequate supply of personal protective equipment.


“We’re going to demand the science guide every decision we make, and we believe, based on gating criteria, we can have slight reopenings, but it’s not an invitation to go out and about and ignore our public health requirements,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “The virus decides when and how much we reopen, and our behavior will determine how well we control its spread.”

Over the last two weeks, in the “Preparation Phase,” the state has seen continued statewide spread of the highly contagious virus. As of Wednesday, New Mexico had 5,364 reported positive cases and 231 reported fatalities associated with the virus, with 62 fatalities reported in the last week alone. Two hundred New Mexicans remain hospitalized. 

Nevertheless, the overall transmission rate of the virus continues to edge downward and the health care system is withstanding COVID-19 driven demand; the state continues to work to expand its testing and contact-tracing capacity.

“I think we can begin to reopen, but it is a tightrope walk. We need you all people in New Mexico to be the ones who bend that curve and keep it flat,” said Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the Human Services Department.

“At the end of the day, it’s all driven by what we do as New Mexicans. If we stay home, wash hands, cough into our elbows and wear face masks, we’ll continue to meet our gating criteria goals and continue to reopen the economy,” Scrase said.

In line with the state’s status relative to its gating criteria, the amended public health order will again relax several restrictions on low-intensity contact services to relieve additional economic pressure.


  • New Mexicans must remain home except for outings essential for health, safety and welfare, especially elderly and vulnerable individuals. If you must leave home, gatherings of more than five people remain prohibited and 6 feet of physical distance from others must be maintained.

  • Large retailers like big-box stores and grocery stores will continue operating at 20 percent capacity as determined by fire code.

  • Locations and services where high-intensity contact is unavoidable – such as gyms, salons and dine-in service at restaurants and bars – will remain temporarily closed. Limited in-person operations for those types of businesses could be included in the next modification of the public health order, as soon as early June, depending on New Mexico’s rate of COVID-19 transmission, testing capacity and other gating criteria.

  • Other high-intensity contact services that must remain closed include indoor malls, massage and tattoo parlors, theaters, casinos.

  • 14-day quarantine order remains in place for out-of-state airport arrivals.

  • Vacation rentals prohibited to out-of-state residents.

  • Visits to long-term care and other congregate care facilities remain restricted.


  • All retailers may operate according to COVID-Safe Practices (“CSPs”) at 25 percent fire code occupancy (a “retailer” is any business that sells goods directly to the ultimate consumer or end-users and does not include wholesalers or suppliers, not does it include entertainment venues such as movie theaters, concert halls, or amusement parks);

  • Non-essential businesses (other than retailers; such as office spaces, call centers) generally may operate according to CSPs at up to 25 percent of pre-crisis staffing levels. All employees should continue to work from home wherever possible;

  • Houses of worship may operate at 10 percent occupancy;

  • Additional state parks and certain outdoor recreation guides with COVID-Safe Practices;

  • Masks will be required of everyone in public places, with exceptions for eating, drinking and exercising and medical requirements.

“As the state opens up and our risk increases, the only way we save lives and keep the gating criteria where it is is if we’re all wearing face coverings,” the governor said. “It’s not a guarantee against the virus, but it really helps slow the spread, and that’s why we’re mandating it.”

A recent study found that if 80 percent of us adopt a simple homemade face mask, we could reduce deaths from COVID-19 by 17-45 percent over two months.

“All of us wearing masks could save thousands of lives,” Scrase said.

Summer youth programs will be allowed with modifications, limits and additional requirements, including daily temperature checks and enhanced cleaning. In-person summer programs and sports camps will be restricted to 5:1 child to adult ratios and activities must maintain 6-foot distancing between participants. ​Full guidance for youth summer programs is attached to this news release.

COVID-safe practices for businesses in New Mexico are available online here and will be updated later this week with individualized practices for specific industries, as well as houses of worship. Important practices retail and other establishments must enact include frequent cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces; signage to communicate occupancy limits; adherence to maximum occupancy limits per the state emergency public health order; and establishing protocols to allow for contact-less pickup and home delivery wherever possible, among others.

The three counties – McKinley, San Juan and Cibola – in the state’s northwestern public health region that remains a COVID-19 hotspot are exempt from the new order but will be allowed to move into the preparation phase that began two weeks ago for the rest of the state. That means that in those counties, non-essential retailers may provide curbside pickup or delivery; golf courses, pet and veterinary services may open; and gun stores may operate by appointment. However, the order to stay home except for essential outings remains in place.

Assuming continued progress on the gating criteria (reduced transmission rates and adequate capacity for health care and supplies), higher-intensity contact could be phased in when the new order expires. That might include partially reopening salons, barbers, gyms, indoor malls, and dine-in at restaurants with limited occupancy and COVID-safe practices in place. Additionally, occupancy restrictions on houses of worship, motels and hotels could possibly expand in early June.