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New Mexico governor lifts state’s indoor mask mandate

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, announces the end to her state’s indoor mask mandate while Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, right, removes his mask on Thursday in Santa Fe. Lujan Grisham has been known for her adamant mask wearing, including in outdoor settings. She says a drop in the risk of COVID-19 allows her to drop the executive order mandating indoor mask wearing. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press file)

SANTA FE – Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted the state’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces on Thursday.

She made the surprise announcement at a news conference that came after the end of the 30-day legislative session.

Until now, New Mexico and Hawaii had been the only states that had yet to set a date for lifting their mandates. Washington’s governor was expected to announce a date on when the indoor mandate would lift later Thursday.

As in other states, coronavirus infections in New Mexico have been declining.

The governor cited reduced COVID-19 risk and removed her mask.

Most of the Democratic governor’s allies and cabinet members also took off their masks following the announcement, including Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase.

Scrase said later that masks would still be required at hospitals and congregate care settings such as nursing homes.

State Health and Human Services Secretary David Scrase looks at an N-95 mask on Thursday in Santa Fe. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the end of an indoor mask mandate in the state citing falling COVID-19 numbers. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press)

In August, the governor reinstated New Mexico’s mask mandate. At the time, she cited stagnant vaccination rates and an increase in infections. She also required more people to get vaccinated, including workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other places that the state deemed as high-risk.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Lujan Grisham planned any other changes to the state's current public health order, which will expire in early March.

The governor, who is up for re-election in November, had been facing increasing pressure to reconsider the mask mandate for public spaces after several more states moved to lift their requirements earlier this month.

State Sen. David Gallegos, a Republican from southeastern New Mexico, was among those leading the charge against the mandate. In early February, he sent a letter to education officials saying New Mexico was one of the last holdouts to “accept the widespread conclusion” that there was little data to support the continued use of masks in schools.

“As a state, we must begin our transition to normalcy now, beginning with our kids who are most resilient to the virus and most impacted by masking and lockdowns,” he wrote.

Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, said Thursday that individual school districts will have the choice whether to maintain masking. She said the union has always maintained the best decision making happens at the local level.

“We see today’s announcement as a sign of progress in our shared fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue our efforts to empower our members to make the decisions which are best for themselves, their students, and our communities,” Holland said.

State Sen. Majority Whip Linda Lopez removes her mask on Thursday in Santa Fe. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the end of an indoor mask mandate in the state citing falling COVID-19 numbers. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press)