Visitors must be feeling a little bit of a bait-and-switch.
On the one hand, the New Mexico Tourism Department continues to run TV ads for its New Mexico True tourism campaign, spotlighting the state’s dramatic landscapes, rich cultures and recreational opportunities. Ads from communities including Santa Fe are ubiquitous online, encouraging visitors to come and “discover your different” here.
No masks, six feet of social distancing or 14-day quarantines mentioned. Watching the ads, one would never know there was a coronavirus pandemic.
And on the other hand, the governor has discouraged out-of-state visitors, recommending they wait until COVID-19 risks subside before planning their dream trip here. Anyone from out of state who cannot prove they have first quarantined in-state could be ordered to self-isolate for two weeks. (New Mexico and Hawaii are the only states with a blanket travel quarantine.)
Now, in steps the state’s most populous city to help enforce the state’s virtually unenforceable quarantine.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told KOAT Action News last week that emergency powers granted to him by the City Council in July could result in police officers or other city employees asking those with out-of-state license plates to prove in-state residency. “(W)e would say, ‘Hey have you already quarantined for 14 days?’ And if they haven’t, we would pass on their information to the Department of Health,” he said.
Talk about a warm welcome to the Land of Enchantment. Guess who won’t sign up for a second visit here?
The mayor signed an emergency declaration this month saying the city may restrict out-of-staters from any city facility, property or nature space – including any bike or walking trail, city park or city bus. The prospect of a self-declared sanctuary city asking out-of-staters for proof of residency is more than a little ironic.
The mayor’s emergency declaration states visitors could be required to prove in-state residency with a New Mexico driver’s license, ID card, vehicle registration, federal documents, military ID or utility bill.
Keller told KOAT the city hasn’t had to use his Aug. 12 emergency declaration to keep out-of-staters off city property but could “if things got worse.” So perhaps in the fall or winter – when many fear a coronavirus resurgence coupled with an influenza surge – our over-taxed police officers will also target out-of-state drivers headed to the zoo to ask if they’ve quarantined for 14 days?
The N.M. Department of Health has not sought a single court order for violating the travel quarantine, yet Albuquerque officials are ready to question drivers with out-of-state license plates? How about locals who rent a car or a moving trailer with a plate from another state?
And if you thought the quarantine was tough to enforce on its face, check out the exceptions: People traveling here for business. People employed or contracted by an “essential business.” Employees of airlines, first responders, health care, the military and their dependents, federal government and national defense contractors. And N.M. residents who left the state to get medical care, left for less than 24 hours for parenting responsibilities or are arriving pursuant to a court order.
The state is OK with all of them. And based on the flashy ads, tourists, too – but any wanting to visit the Albuquerque Museum, ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo or Tingley Beach who drive their own vehicles could be ordered to stay in a hotel room for 14 days.
The DOH says the quarantine is in place because many of the state’s COVID-19 cases “have resulted from interstate and international travel to New Mexico.” But once again, where’s the contact tracing data to back up the state’s argument? Just how many cases are due to interstate travel, when did they happen, and where?
Tourism is an economic lifeblood of New Mexico, but with public safety paramount, we either want tourists, or we don’t. The state needs to provide data to justify its quarantine – and maybe join with communities to either add a little truth in advertising and include the two weeks mandatory isolation or try to bump those tourism ads past flu season.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.