New Mexico Governor Lifts Mask Mandate For Vaccinated Youth

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico was under pressure Thursday to get thousands of people vaccinated to meet a deadline set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The Democratic governor wanted to reopen the state by July 1, as long as 60% of residents 16 and older were fully vaccinated at least two weeks ahead of that date.

Data from the New Mexico Department of Health showed 59% of eligible residents were fully vaccinated as of midday Thursday, marking just a slight increase from the day before. Some experts have said it would be difficult for the state to hit its mark since the pace of vaccinations over recent days was increasing by only a small fraction.

State officials said they planned to review the vaccine data Friday to determine the state's progress.

Also on Thursday, state officials lifted mask requirements for fully vaccinated youth athletes while they are on the field of play. They must register their vaccine status with an athletic association. “Republican lawmakers criticized the move saying athletes playing outdoors should not be required to wear masks, especially during the recent heat wave.

The state also was considering setting aside up to $1 million in cash incentives for youth sports and academic teams whose members get vaccinated by the end of July. If approved, it would mark the latest round of incentives aimed at boosting vaccinations.

Lujan Grisham on Thursday again promoted a state sweepstakes that features four $250,000 prizes and a grand prize of $5 million. It's funded with federal COVID-19 recovery money. More than 415,000 New Mexicans have registered for the prizes.

The governor called those good odds.

“New Mexicans have been through a lot this last year. I’m glad we’re going to have a little fun, and I’m grateful to New Mexicans who continue to get their shots, who encourage family and friends to get their shots, because with every vaccine administered we are one step closer to ending this pandemic,” she said in a statement.

The first drawing will be Friday, but state officials said it likely will be a few days before winners are announced as their vaccine status will have to be verified.

State officials during a briefing Wednesday said the incentives were working and they considered spending on prize money as an investment in public health.

However, not all residents are interested in getting vaccinated. State health officials have struggled to boost vaccination rates in rural areas, particularly in the eastern part of the state, despite the availability of doses.