(The Center Square) – New Mexico’s businesses, many already working at diminished capacity, are worried that the recent jump in coronavirus cases could spur actions by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that cut even more deeply into their businesses.
“We’re concerned about going backwards,” said Kathy Komoll, CEO of the New Mexico Hospitality Association. “We’re concerned about the health of New Mexicans and we’re concerned with the economic impact.”
Tanya Sanchez, owner of Albuquerque restaurant Brixens, is among a slew of New Mexico businesses already walking a financial tightrope.
“It’s a really scary time for restaurants,” she said. “It’s actually just terrifying. A lot of people feel the governor is going to shut down inside dining again.”
Lujan Grisham in a Thursday news conference warned that more stringent clamp downs may be on the way if New Mexico is unable to corral the latest surge in coronavirus.
“We’re not succeeding at combatting the virus,” the governor said. “The virus is now winning. We are in uncharted waters. This situation is the most serious emergency that New Mexico has ever faced, and the health crisis is extreme for every single New Mexican.”
As of Thursday, Lujan Grisham said the state had an 8.1 percent positivity rate with the Thursday total at 672 new infections and a new overall count of 34,958. There were 150 people in hospitals with the virus, with 21 on ventilators:
Steps that the governor took Friday to slow the spread of the virus amount to a harbinger of what could lie ahead.
On Friday, Lujan Grisham re-emphasized previous action – stay at home, wear masks, avoid group and indoor activities and wash your hands.
“We want to get to 100-percent mask wearing as much as possible,” she said.
The state’s Rapid Response program provided the data for another set of restrictions, however. This system is triggered when the state learns of a positive employee in a New Mexico workplace.
There has been a 60-percent jump in Rapid Responses since September, Lujan Grisham said.
Restaurants led the way with a 120 percent increase week over week. Retail and wholesale increased 98 percent.
That’s translated to restaurants that serve alcohol and bars closing at 10 p.m. starting Friday, reduced occupancy at hotels and other lodging to a maximum of 60 percent for places that have completed the N.M. Safe Certified training program and to 25 percent for those that have not completed the program., a 14-day quarantine for visitors from high risk states and a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
As a result of the government-imposed restrictions, New Mexico has the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., and business groups fear the state's economy will take years to recover if the governor keeps placing more restrictions on them.
Businesses, Lujan Grishame said, “can’t expand, can’t stay open, can’t protect their employees and need sustainability and predictability. It’s not this. The notion that we are invincible is wrong.”
Adding to the concern, the state Thursday saw its first case of flu, sparking Lujan Grisham’s warning that people need to get their flu shots in addition to taking the COVID safety measures.
“We don’t know if you can get COVID and the flu at the same time,” said Dr. David Scrase, the state’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services Department, “but there have been some reports of that.”
Flu shots, he said, have declined so far this year over last year.
Lujan Grisham also warned that she will take whatever steps are necessary to slow COVID-19's spread, which could include clamping down further on restaurants, hotels and retail shops, among other things.
“The very real fear is if we can’t marry these restrictions with the highest level of personal commitment, they will not be enough and we will know in short order,” she said.
Newly reopened, Brixens is operating at a loss, and that’s after being closed from March 13 to Oct. 9. Labor costs, Sanchez said, are running at 180 percent of sales.
They were a dine-in only restaurant. Now they are takeout only. They have a new takeout window, a new menu that focuses on takeout and a newly safety-trained staff.
“That was our strategy,” Sanchez said. “All the experts predicted that fall and winter there would be rising cases and if there was rising cases, we felt the governor would restrict more.”