New Mexico governor lifts state’s indoor mask mandate
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared Thursday that the state’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces has been lifted.
She made the surprise announcement at a news conference that followed the end of the 30-day legislative session.
Until today, New Mexico and Hawaii were the only states that had yet to set a date for lifting their mandates. Washington’s governor was expected to announce a date on when the indoor mandate would lift later Thursday.
As in other states, COVID-19 cases in New Mexico have been declining.
The governor cited reduced COVID-19 risk and removed her mask.
“I want to express my gratitude to every New Mexican who has steadfastly worn a mask, gotten vaccinated, and done everything in their power to protect their neighbors, as well as the heroic health care and frontline workers who have courageously supported our communities during this uncertain time,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “Given the continued drop in hospitalizations and the lessening of the burden on our hospitals, it’s time to end the mask mandate. With vaccines, boosters and effective treatment options widely available, we have the tools we need to protect ourselves and keep our fellow New Mexicans safe.”
The number of hospitalized New Mexicans dropped by 37% since the end of January, down to 446 yesterday. The state’s Crisis Standards of Care declaration will expire March 11, as there has been a significant drop in hospitalizations that has increased the availability of resources at New Mexico hospitals.
Most of the Democratic governor’s allies and cabinet members also took off their masks following the announcement, including Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase.
In August, the governor reinstated New Mexico’s mask mandate. At the time, she cited stagnant vaccination rates and an increase in infections. She also required more people to get vaccinated, including workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other places that the state deemed as high-risk.
In response, Lea County school districts have announced they will not be requiring mask wearing, including Hobbs, Eunice, Jal and Lovington schools.
HMS Supt. Gene Strickland said today’s decision to lift the mask mandate was made after consulting with Hobbs School Board members and comes as COVID-19 numbers in Lea County decline. “It’s major step toward normalcy,” Strickland said, adding that if there’s an uptick in cases, mask wearing may return at some point in the future.
The superintendent pointed out that many staff and students will likely continue to wear masks as a safety measure. “I think at this point in the pandemic, masks are so common place in our culture that there is no judgement about the people who wear or don’t wear them,” Strickland said. “We want all of our students and staff to make the decision that is in their best interest regarding safety.”
The Lovington schools said, “The health and safety of our Lovington Wildcats remains a top priority of our district; however, at this time Lovington Schools will no longer require masks to be worn while on school premises. We respect those individuals who choose to continue to wear masks, while inside our facilities and encourage our students to practice habits that lessen the spread of harmful germs.”
Interim President Dr. Steve McCleery said somestaff and students will likely continue to wear masks as a safety measure.
“We want all of our students and staff to make the decision that is in their best interest regarding safety and for personal choice to be respected.” McCleery said. “We are not out of this completely yet, so it is important to still follow social distancing guidelines, wash your hands, and staying home if you are sick.”
The Republican Party of New Mexico said the lifting was a politically motivated and long over due.
“This is nothing but political expediency. Less than two hours after suffering her legislative defeats, including election bills, her hydrogen hub plan and the Clean Fuel Standard Act, the governor suddenly decides it’s time to lift her mask mandate. The politics can’t be clearer. The governor should have lifted this mandate months ago. This was long overdue. Her mask mandate has adversely impacted New Mexicans’ lives, particularly students, who have had to suffer under her impulsive orders. Despite the number of COVID cases falling, Lujan Grisham refused to act appropriately, relying on her unproven science and mystery advisors to keep the unnecessary mandate in place.”