Gov. Lujan Grisham to state employees: Get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested every 2 weeks
DEMING - In an executive order signed Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all New Mexico state employees to mask up and get vaccinated against COVID-19 disease if they haven't already — or get used to frequent testing.
"Our goal is to get every state employee vaccinated," the governor said during a news conference in Santa Fe Thursday. But the policy, which takes effect on Aug. 2, allows for medical and religious exemptions.
State employees who do not provide proof of vaccination will need to show a negative COVID-19 test result every two weeks, per the order.
President Joe Biden announced similar requirements for civilian federal employees Thursday. The states of California and New York have implemented similar mandates.
At the conference, Lujan Grisham estimated 66 percent of the state government's workforce was already fully vaccinated, while rates fluctuate at different facilities with higher rates at congregate care and corrections facilities where employees were at greater risk of exposure to the disease.
Employees who are not fully vaccinated will be directed to wear masks indoors except when eating or drinking. However, the state has also adopted guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending indoor masking even for the vaccinated in areas with high daily case rates.
New Mexico officials have urged residents to go further, and mask up indoors even in counties with lower transmission, as cases one again increase throughout the state.
New cases of the disease, caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, have quadrupled in New Mexico during July, with a concurrent rise in hospitalizations. The increased transmissions are attributed chiefly to the delta variant of the virus, which is highly infectious and currently accounts for a large majority of cases in the state and nationwide.
The CDC guidance includes vaccinated people because of evidence that while they are still protected in most cases from severe disease they are able to spread it to others.
At Thursday's conference, the governor did not rule out additional steps, such as mandating vaccinations for workers in high-risk settings, in an effort once again to curb community spread, protect hospitals from surges of patients and reduce deaths.
New Mexico State University announced Thursday that masks will be required, beginning next week, in all its indoor locations and offices statewide where maintaining six feet of distance between individuals is not possible; and at all times for the unvaccinated.
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At the University of New Mexico's Albuquerque, Taos, and Valencia and Sandoval County locations, masks will be required indoors, regardless of vaccination status, although vaccinated individuals will be exempt from wearing them outdoors or in assigned rooms.
The state Public Education Department was expected to update its guidance on masking at public schools, as well, but was in the midst of a change in its top leadership Thursday; Secretary Dr. Ryan Stewart stepped down to care for his ailing father, with retired Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus designated to succeed him.