New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Saturday expanded her mass gatherings ban to combat spread of the coronavirus to include churches and other houses of worship on the eve of the Christian holy day of Easter.
Lujan Grisham’s announcement of her deletion of a previous exemption for houses of worship said many congregations have already canceled in-person services because of the pandemic but that it was still necessary to be “absolutely clear that mass gatherings of any type are not permitted in houses of worship.”
The governor noted that many New Mexico churches plan virtual Easter services through means such as webstreaming.
“While this will be emotionally difficult for so many New Mexicans, public health must be the top priority. The only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is by staying home and minimizing all person-to-person contact,” Lujan Grisham said.
Archbishop John Wester Archdiocese of the Santa Fe Archdiocese told The Associated Press in a pre-Easter interview that the new coronavirus was nothing to play around with: “You don’t get any do-overs, you know. It doesn’t take a day off for Good Friday or Easter Sunday.”
The archdiocese is livestreaming Easter services on Facebook.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
New Mexico reported 1,174 coronavirus cases with 20 deaths as of Saturday. In other developments state officials said Friday that the operator of a 73-bed skilled nursing rehabilitation center in Albuquerque plans to convert it into a facility that will provide a temporary home for elderly coronavirus patients.
Plans call for the elderly coronavirus patients to be moved to Canyon Transition Rehabilitation Center for care and recovery and for Canyon’s current residents to go to other facilities free of coronavirus, the Department of Health announced Friday.
The move will allow infection-free seniors at other facilities “to be able to stay at their present facilities free of the heightened risk of viral spread,” the department said.
The department acknowledged “concern and worry” of families of current Canyon residents but said those residents’ health and safety “will remain a top priority” for it and the New Mexico Aging & Long-Term Services Department.
“The planned transitions would protect those who are affected and those who are not,” Aging & Long-Term Services Department Cabinet Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said in a statement. “We absolutely must separate individuals who are positive from those who are not and do everything within our ability to save lives.”
Jennifer Brown-Shoman told KOAT-T V that she was concerned that her 84-year-old mother, a Canyon resident, would be removed from “a clean facility” and possibly exposed to the virus by being put into another facility.
The Health Department on Friday identified nine senior living centers and other congregant living facilities where employers or residents had tested positive for the coronavirus. They include five in Albuquerque, three in Farmington and Aztec in San Juan County and one in Santa Fe.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
— Lujan Grisham’s administration on Friday issued guidelines saying people going outdoors should practice social distancing and be cautious about potential crowding at places such as parks, trailheads and parking lots, particularly during the Easter weekend.
— Las Cruces closed its public parks during the Easter weekend and officials said police would conduct patrols to enforce the closures and could issue trespass citations to repeat offenders.
— Albuquerque officials said they weren’t closing open spaces but that police would be stationed at trailheads to ensure that people followed social-distancing rules.
— The state Department of Transportation said food trucks will be allowed to operate at highway rest areas statewide during the pandemic.
The move should help commercial truckers traveling in rural areas where communities have limited options for takeout food and minimize the need to stop in communities, the department said.
“We continue to encourage commercial vehicles to also utilize available truck stops and other options for fuel and food purchases when it makes sense,” the department said.