New Mexico indoor dining reopening plans, criteria remain unclear

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been more than two weeks since the state shut down indoor restaurant dining service for a second time to help slow the spread of COVID-19. While patio and take-out service is still allowed, some restaurant owners are frustrated that don’t know more yet about what criteria that state wants to see before reopening dining rooms.

At a news conference, Thursday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her top health advisor said the state doesn’t have a specific metric like the average number of daily cases that they’re looking at to reopen indoor dining. Instead, the state says it’s looking at a combination of factors including the standard gating criteria.

“We haven’t nailed down what the target would be if we decided to add (7-day case average) as a criteria,” said Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department. “But none the less, it’s just common sense that you can’t reopen very much of anything when you’re at the worse point so far, and the other thing is the gating criteria really all do go together.”

According to data presented Tuesday, New Mexico is meeting three of the four key gating criteria, including a manageable spread rate, above targeted testing capacity and adequate capacity of hospital beds. The state did not meet its contact tracing goals however, meaning it’s taking longer than acceptable to contact COVID positive patients or people they’ve come in contact with.

The rolling seven-day average of new COVID cases was far lower when New Mexico initially reopened indoor dining in early June. Around June 1, Dr. David Scrase says the seven-day average of new COVID cases was between 100 to 110 cases per day. When restaurants close indoor dining again in early July, the state’s chart indicates New Mexico was seeing more than 200 new cases a day.

The lack of answers about when indoor dining will reopen has left some restaurant owners frustrated. Tom Hutchinson owns two restaurants in Mesilla near Las Cruces. He says he’s only employing about a quarter of his normal 150 person staff.

“When do we open up? What are going to be those signals, those metrics that she’ll look at? They’re not defined, it’s not clear to us,” Hutchinson said. “I think we could all sit down and talk about that a little bit more and understand her concerns.”

A board member for the New Mexico Restaurant, Hutchinson feels there can be a safe compromise. He’s concerned about the loss to the restaurant industry. The New Mexico Restaurant Association estimates roughly 200 of the state’s estimated 3,500 restaurants have closed for good because of the pandemic. Hutchinson says restaurants account for about 80,000 employees.

“It’s not an easy moment for our governor, I get that, but I really believe that we can work with her and partner to come up with some solutions that I think are in the best interests of all New Mexicans and certainly my industry and we’re ready to do that,” Hutchinson said.

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