ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It will be up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide what authority the state has to enforce certain provisions of the public health orders that have stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.
Arguments will be presented during an Aug. 4 remote hearing.
About a dozen business owners and companies sued the state in May, challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority to levy hefty fines for violating the public health orders. The plaintiffs say state law authorizes fines of $100 or less in such cases, not the $5,000-per-day penalty cited by state officials.
The Democratic governor has declined in recent weeks to ease any more restrictions on businesses because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. New Mexico on Wednesday reported an additional 290 cases, bringing the statewide total to more than 14,000. Nearly 530 deaths in the state have been attributed to the virus.
Wednesday marked New Mexico's second-highest daily new case count yet, and officials warned that the virus continues to spread statewide.
Lujan Grisham in a tweet described the situation as untenable. “This virus is real. It is deadly. We cannot afford to become complacent. Your actions can make a difference. I beg you to take it seriously,” she wrote.
Worldwide, the number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported numbers because many people haven’t been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The shutdown in New Mexico began in March with the governor's stay-at-home order, which forced many businesses to close as health officials looked to stunt the spread of the coronavirus. While restaurants, breweries, salons, gyms and other establishments have since been allowed to reopen at reduced capacities, some small businesses had to close for good after not being able to weather the storm.
Federal data released this week named a fraction of the businesses that received loans through the U.S. government's $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program. The program was launched in April to help smaller businesses keep Americans employed during the pandemic.
In New Mexico, tens of thousands of businesses received loans totaling more than $2.2 billion with nearly a quarter of a million workers affected. Most of the loans went to full-service restaurants followed by law offices, dentists, real estate agents and brokers, oilfield service companies, hotels and doctors' offices.
Many business groups have been pushing the governor to reconsider her restrictions, pointing to the economic fallout and damage to the state's coffers because of lost tax revenues.
“During this pandemic, New Mexico suffers from two threats: the coronavirus, which all are affected by in one way or another, and a lack of leadership from a governor who is quick to threaten another total lockdown while not considering the people her decisions would negatively impact,” said Steve Pearce, chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico.
The party helped organize the litigation.
The lawsuit names Lujan Grisham, Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea and Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel as defendants.