SANTA FE — A group of businesses has sued in federal court to try to end New Mexico’s public health order, claiming Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials have imposed arbitrary and unnecessary rules in response to the pandemic.
It’s the latest legal challenge to the governor’s public health order. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court backed her authority to restrict activities.
The lawsuit filed this week asks the U.S. District Court to override the governor’s executive orders and limit any future public health orders to “an extremely limited period of time” unless authorized by state lawmakers. It also asks that the plaintiffs be compensated for lost income during the lockdowns.
The plaintiffs include three Albuquerque businesses, a Silver City resort and a number of individuals, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Tuesday.
“All the various restrictions that have been placed would be null and void if there’s no emergency,” said Ana Garner, a Santa Fe attorney who is one of three lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
The health order limits capacity at grocery stores and other essential businesses, allows only for curbside pickup and delivery by restaurants, prohibits public gatherings and mandates mask wearing, among other things.
The lawsuit contends that the mandates are out of proportion to the virus’s true severity.
“The medical profession is clear: This is the worst global pandemic in a century,” said Matt Bieber, a spokesman for the state Health Department. “The lawsuit appears to be out of step with these realities.”
Confirmed COVID-19 infections in New Mexico have topped 141,000, while deaths have surpassed 2,430.
The state on Wednesday announced that one of New Mexico’s 33 counties — Catron County — saw enough improvement in its per-capita daily incidence of new COVID-19 cases and its average test positivity rate to relax some of public health regulations under the state’s color-coded risk system. More than two dozen counties saw improvements in at least one of the two categories while 21 saw improvements in both metrics, officials said.
State Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said during a briefing Wednesday that she feels positive so far about the rollout of vaccinations in New Mexico to frontline health care workers and staff and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. In all, the state has ordered and received more than 49,600 doses and 83% of those already have been distributed.
Collins also encouraged people to register online if they’re interested in receiving the vaccination when it becomes more widely available. She reported that 160,000 people had signed up within an eight-day period.
While the state is still in the planning stages for later phases of distribution, she said the registrations would help as the state prioritizes which groups come next.
The pandemic has had far-reaching social and economic consequences, with many small businesses forced to close for good and increased unemployment.
The state Legislature recently allocated previously unspent federal relief money for some residents. The state Human Services Department also received more than $5 million in federal funding for $300 one-time payments for low-income households that are behind on their utility bills.