Quarantine or Not, Travelers Still Go to New Mexico

16 July 2020

In the New Mexico mountain town of Red River, visitors from Texas walk along Main Street. Most of the out-of-state visitors ignore orders from New Mexico's governor to quarantine and wear face coverings.

Tourists are also coming to others areas in the state, including Taos and the city of Santa Fe. But there, nearly all visitors wear face coverings. Both places have signs warning visitors of fines if they break the rules.

People walk on Main St without masks in violation of a health order by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Red River, New Mexico, U.S., July 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Andrew Hay)
People walk on Main St without masks in violation of a health order by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Red River, New Mexico, U.S., July 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Andrew Hay)

Like governors in at least 15 states, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered out-of-state tourists to self-isolate. Lujan Grisham, a member of the Democratic Party, has pointed to data showing that about one in 10 of New Mexico's COVID-19 cases comes from visitors.

Enforcing the orders is proving difficult, however. The United States has no national plan related to face masks. New Mexico police resist launching a massive campaign to enforce the state's rules. And even in a pandemic, many Americans continue to take long road trips.

A road trip this summer means driving through states with very different rules when it comes to the coronavirus.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infection rates to self-quarantine for two weeks after they arrive. New York requires fines for those who disobey.

Hard-hit Florida requires travelers from those three states to self-isolate for 14 days whether they arrive by car or airplane. Travelers who do not do so face a $500 fine.

The states of Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont also announced self-isolation rules.

‘Taking away out liberty'

New Mexico's government published newspaper advertisements in neighboring Arizona and Texas. The ads urge people from those states not to visit New Mexico. Arizona has a positive coronavirus test rate of 27 percent. In Texas, the test rate is 18 percent. Health experts consider a 5 percent rate to be worrisome.

But the visitors keep coming.

Texan Chris Fry is one of them. He recently visited Red River. "They're saying the masks should work, so why should you be quarantined?" Fry said.

A 45-minute drive south in Taos Plaza, Louisiana tourist Christy Brasiel was upset that the historic Native American community was closed to visitors. She compared the New Mexico governor's rules to "communism or socialism."

"They're taking away our liberty," she said. She stayed in a private Airbnb property to avoid her voluntary quarantine order.

As in cities across New Mexico, police in Red River have yet to issue citations for not obeying COVID-19 rules, said town mayor Linda Calhoun, a Republican. She told the Reuters news agency that she is urging businesses in her town to require face coverings.

"We live off of tourists, that's all we have, so it's very difficult for us to enforce the order," Calhoun said of the quarantine rule. Red River is sometimes called "Little Texas" because of the number of visitors from that state.

In Taos County, COVID-19 cases have doubled in the past month. Many locals there are upset by the behavior of tourists.

"It doesn't make any sense to be so selfish," said Maureen Moore, a 67-year-old lawyer.

"We don't want you here"

Three weeks ago, New Mexico reported stable or dropping daily case numbers. The state had used early, severe restrictions to control the spread of the virus. The governor eased the restrictions on June 1.

But with its positive test rate rising above 4 percent, Lujan Grisham has criticized New Mexicans for letting down their guard. This week, she reclosed indoor restaurant dining.

At a press conference on July 9, Lujan Grisham said of tourists, "We don't want you here now." Speaking to Texans interested in possibly visiting her state, she said, "I want you to stay in Texas."

The governor added that New Mexico State Police would "aggressively" enforce her quarantine and mask orders.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

quarantine - n. to keep (a person or animal) away from others to prevent a disease from spreading : to put or keep (a person or animal) in quarantine

self-isolate - v. to keep yourself apart from others

tourist - n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

upset - adj. angry or unhappy

citation - n. an official order to appear before a court of law

stable - adj. in a good state or condition that is not easily changed or likely to change

let down one's guard - idiom. to lower one's level of caution or carefulness