SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A county in New Mexico’s southeastern oil production region is backing a legal challenge against a statewide ban on indoor dining amid surging coronavirus infections across the state.
Eddy County filed a legal brief with the New Mexico Supreme Court in solidarity with restaurants that say Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has overstepped her authority under a stay-at-home order that bans indoor dining.
County officials say summer heat in southeastern New Mexico makes it especially difficult to operate a restaurant without indoor dining, putting an outsized strain on the area’s economy. Lujan Grisham says restaurant service can be riskier than other business activity because face masks are removed when people eat.
It was unclear when the court will reach a decision.
The Jalisco Cafe in Silver City on Tuesday joined the New Mexico Restaurant Association in urging the court to strike down the indoor dining ban. The restaurant was sanctioned by environmental officials last month for flouting the ban on indoor service.
Separately, a lawsuit backed by the state Republican Party is challenging the governor’s authority to levy fines against businesses that defy public health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oral arguments are scheduled in that case next week.
State health officials reinstated the ban in mid-July amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Mexico has risen over the past two weeks by about 28%, from 253 newly confirmed cases per day on July 13 to 296 additional reported cases per day on July 27, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The seven-day average for virus-related deaths has increased from 4.57 per day to 6.14 over the same period.
On Tuesday, health officials confirmed 301 additional cases of COVID-19 infection, with nearly 20,000 infected since the pandemic reached New Mexico. Seven additional deaths were linked to the virus, all in people ages 60 or older. There were 160 hospitalized for treatment.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.