SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico will temporarily re-implement a statewide requirement for facemasks to be worn in all public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccinations status. The state will also enact new vaccination requirements related to private, public and charter school employees, hospital and health care workers, correctional and other congregate care facility employees, as well as those attending the upcoming New Mexico State Fair.

The changes to the state’s vaccine requirements only allow for a small number of exemptions. Those granted an exemption will be asked to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing under the state’s new public health order.

The latest changes to the state’s public health order mark the most significant series of new COVID-related restrictions since the state jettisoned the county-by-county color-coded reopening framework on July 1, 2021. The new mask mandate is slated to take effect starting Friday, August 20, and is so far slated to remain in effect until at least September 15, 2021.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined the policy changes as necessary to “blunt the transmittal rates” and “surges of infections” of COVID-19 in the state. As of Monday afternoon, the state reported 304 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Mexico. One day later, the state is now reporting 341 hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

A concerning growth in the number of new COVID-19 cases has state officials concerned hospitals will once again be overwhelmed patients as the state faced in December 2020. The state is now projected by late August or early September, New Mexico will face between 900 and 1,500 new COVID cases per day. Southeast New Mexico is expected to be the hardest hit, with the region possibly seeing as many at 1,250 news COVID cases per day soon, as projected by Los Alamos National Labs.

One of the most significant outcomes from Tuesday’s changes will occur next month during the New Mexico State Fair. The state will require all people working or attending on the fairgrounds to either prove vaccination status or provide proof of one of a few types of exemptions, including a qualifying medical condition verified by a medical professional, a documented disability or sincerely held religious belief. Those with qualifying exemptions to vaccination have to provide proof of testing negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours prior to entering the fairground.

State leaders emphasized the use of masking and vaccinations to help New Mexico get COVID case numbers under control. When asked by the press if the state would consider returning to its prior color-coded county-by-county reopening system, the Governor said, “I don’t see us going back there,” saying color-coded maps continue to be helpful in helping identify hot spots.

“These color-coded strategies are effective, I don’t see us using (a color-coded map) now to determine making key decisions,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “The key decision is masks for everyone indoors and getting our vaccination rates up and working to blunt that (caseload) back down to a flat, and a reducing caseload situation.”

New Mexico’s Acting Department of Health Secretary and Human Service Secretary Dr. David Scrase said a color-coded map would likely result in most counties maintains a “red” status for months. “Within a week or two, New Mexico would be red and would stay red for about 10 weeks like we did last time, so you won’t really give us much utility in the next couple months.”

New Mexico has been “fully reopened” since July 1, 2021, when state health officials dropped the color-coded, reopening framework. Meanwhile, the state has since changed its face mask policy to reflect CDC guidance. The CDC is currently recommending people wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, “to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others” in counties with “substantial or high transmission.”

Recently, the state revamped its online COVID-19 Public Dashboard to reflect the CDC’s county-level data related to COVID-19 transmission rates. The new map ranks COVID-19 transmission by four colors, from worst to best: red, orange, yellow, and blue.

National reports Tuesday also indicated U.S. health officials are soon expected to recommend the public receive COVID vaccine booster shots eight months after full vaccination. On Monday, New Mexico health officials released guidance for dolling out third COVID-19 doses for some immunocompromised populations.

Tuesday’s news conference marks the first time Governor Lujan Grisham has attended a state-organized COVID-19 briefing in nearly four months, since April 28, 2021. The state has held more than 46 COVID-19 briefings since March 2020.