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Governor extends NM public health emergency for the last time

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham puts on her face mask in April, 2020, when not speaking during an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
Eddie Moore
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham puts her face mask on during an April 2020 update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishamissued a public health emergency on March 11, 2020 to maximize resources and minimize spread as COVID-19 reached the state. The order has since been extended 41 times, including for the last time Friday. New Mexico is one of just five states that’s kept its directive in effect. It was set to expire Friday but the governor announced it will stay in place for the rest of the month.

The governor’s declaration is tied to the public health order from the state Department of Health that outlines the requirements, which by this point are few. Many may not even notice when it is lifted on March 31.

“Most New Mexicans recognize that they have the tools to fight COVID-19 — vaccines, testing, treatments and other mitigation measures,” Department of Health spokesperson Jodi McGinnis-Porter told KUNM. “So I don’t think anything will change for any of them.”

The state has reduced the reach and impact of the public health order substantially over the last three years. As it stands, it includes a number of mere suggestions — that New Mexicans should “remain aware” of protecting vulnerable populations and can use a CDC calculator to guide isolation and quarantine decisions, for instance. It also recommends local businesses follow the CDC’s Workplace and Business guidance while continuing to disinfect their spaces and includes a reminder that they can do more if they want.

The last of the mandates deal with schools and healthcare facilities.

New Mexico schools must followthe Public Education Department’s toolkit for preventing and responding to COVID cases, including a five-day isolation for positive cases and ten days of masking for close contacts, along with cleaning and reporting obligations when a student or staff member tests positive.

Healthcare providers under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), including at assisted living and adult day care operations, must be vaccinated and masked, according to the agency’s requirement. That will remain the case when the state order ends. A suggestion that will no longer be on the books is that such facilities monitor community spread and up their restrictions accordingly.

The state emergency is also tied to the federal one, which the Biden Administration has announced will expire May 11. The temporary expansions of certain federal benefits are dying along with it, if not before. Extra SNAP benefits ended this month and around half of all New Mexicans will need to re-apply for Medicaid if still eligible oncethe continuous enrollment condition is suspended at the end of this month.

“They should be on the lookout for a turquoise envelope from the Human Services Department,” said McGinnis-Porter.

The end of the state and federal emergencies are the latest signs that officials consider the worst of the pandemic behind us. The state has seen over 669,000 recorded cases and 9,047 New Mexicans have died from contracting it, according to DOH. Despite that immense loss of life, along with learning loss and workplace changes, daily life has begun to resemble pre-pandemic times for many New Mexicans.

Though, for immunocompromised people, the one in five survivors believed to be living with Long COVID symptoms, and people with an empty chair at the dinner table, the virus continues to loom large.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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