SANTA FE — Just hours before a state Supreme Court hearing on New Mexico’s ordered closure of indoor restaurant dining, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced it would be lifting the ban and making other changes to a state public health order.
Under the changes, which are set to take effect Saturday, dine-in restaurants and breweries will be allowed to reopen at 25% of maximum capacity. They had been ordered closed in July amid a surge in coronavirus cases statewide.
But with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining for most of August, the governor has decided to lift the restrictions that were among the most stringent of their kind in the nation.
“I know New Mexicans are ecstatic about our recent progress against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “But, given what we know about this virus, we must sound a note of caution: Our progress is only as good as our willingness to stay the course. This virus is still looking for opportunities to spread.”
The governor is expected to announce additional changes to the state’s public health order during a remote news briefing on Thursday.
But the Governor’s Office confirmed Wednesday the revised health order — which will run through at least mid-September — will also increase the maximum capacity at churches and other houses of worship from 25% to 40%.
Lujan Grisham has not yet announced whether public schools will be allowed to resume in-person teaching for elementary school students after Labor Day.
Public and charter schools statewide have started the year under a remote learning model, and some districts —including Albuquerque — have already voted to extend that system through at least this fall.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what impact the announced changes to the state’s public health order will have on the Supreme Court hearing set for Wednesday afternoon.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association, along with several restaurants around the state, filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block the Lujan Grisham’s administration from enforcing its reimposed ban on indoor dining at eateries and breweries.
With Lujan Grisham’s use of emergency powers having been upheld in previous court rulings, the Wednesday hearing is expected to largely hinge on whether the governor’s decision to ban indoor restaurant dining was based on whim or facts.
While eateries are still allowed to operate patio dining at limited capacity, and to provide delivery and curbside takeout, the New Mexico Restaurant Association says such services are not practical in some cases.
In their lawsuit, the restaurant association said at least 210 restaurants around the state have gone out of business due to the state-ordered closures.
However, Lujan Grisham administration officials have said indoor restaurant dining is unsafe due to the close physical proximity of people and the fact diners cannot wear a face mask while eating.
Human Services Secretary David Scrase has said data suggests indoor dining in the U.S. has been linked to spreading COVID-19.