New Mexico restaurants bristle at rolling back indoor dining

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s revamped public health order took effect Monday, and some restaurant owners aren’t happy that they have been ordered to roll back indoor dining.

The owners say they have gone to great lengths to make their establishments safe and that the governor has offered no evidence that New Mexico’s uptick in cases has anything to do with restaurant service.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association has helped organize an online petition. Restaurants across the state also planned to protest the Democratic governor's prohibition of dine-in service by having all staff gather in front of their establishments and hold up signs with the number of employees being affected by the decision.

The association estimates that out of the 82,000 people employed by the industry, more than 50,000 jobs have been lost due to the pandemic and the resulting public health orders. Association CEO Carol Wight said only about 20,000 of those jobs have come back as restaurants were allowed to resume some limited indoor dining in June.

"Many restaurants cannot survive another shutdown,” she said.

The owners of the New Mexico-based chain Flying Star Cafe and Satellite Coffee sent an email to customers over the weekend, saying they will respect the latest order but wondering whether there were more effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus.

In an email, the owners urged supporters to sign the petition, saying the rollback will result in reduced employee hours and food waste.

They also argued that going to a restaurant is a more regulated, safer experience than shopping at any of the big box stores.

Republican lawmakers also have been critical of the governor, saying her policies have amounted to picking winners and losers amid the economic fallout. A lawsuit over fines levied against any businesses found in violation of the state's public health order is pending before the state Supreme Court.

New Mexico has reported nearly 15,300 virus cases since the pandemic began, with 264 new infections confirmed Monday. The number of cases is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and people can be infected without feeling sick.

The death toll in the state is approaching 550.

The governor reiterated Monday that the tougher measures were necessary to stop further spread.

“Too many of us are still not wearing masks. Too many of us are still congregating in groups, taking risks with our own lives and endangering the health of our family members, our neighbors and our state,” Lujan Grisham said.

She added that if schools are to safely reopen next month, the curve needs to be flattened again.

Aside from prohibiting indoor dining and mandating face coverings, the public health order calls for all visitors to quarantine for 14 days and bans out-of-state tourists from state parks. Gyms and other businesses like tattoo shops and salons are limited to 25% occupancy.

The order will be in effect until July 30.

Hospitalizations have jumped more than 44% since July 5. Health officials reported 172 hospitalizations Monday, with about 30% of patients requiring ventilators.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.