LAS CRUCES – As state mask rules and federal health guidelines loosen, communities that established their own mask mandates last year now need to catch up.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed the recommendation that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 wear masks in most settings, meaning the fully vaccinated population received the green light to go without mask indoors and outdoors in most places.
The New Mexico Department of Health the next day announced a modified public health order which removed the mask requirement in most settings for fully immunized people – with exceptions such as schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and public transportation – in line with CDC recommendations.
The County of Doña Ana and the City of Las Cruces each adopted their own mask mandates last year. When the state’s health department rescinded mask rules on May 14, the rules of these local governments instantly became outdated and more restrictive than state rules.
“Now we have some confusion,” County District Attorney Nelson Goodin said.
However, these entities do not violate the new public health order of the state. Local, tribal or territorial rules can be more restrictive, as can private businesses and workplaces.
Doña Ana County Commission narrowly passed an ordinance impose masks in public places, including inside businesses, last May. While the state’s mask mandate already existed, the ordinance allowed for local enforcement.
Despite this, County Sheriff Kim Stewart was reluctant to issue citations and instead sought to voluntarily comply with the order. In November, Stewart said the sheriff’s office had not issued any citation for violating the mask order. She could not be reached at time of printing for updates.
On May 25, the county commission will vote on whether to begin the process of potentially repealing his local mask tenure.
Las Cruces has established mask requirements for Town hall, town facilities, parks and public transport last May. In July, the city council has also adopted requirements for masks in private companies. They have been put in place to reflect state requirements and allow Las Cruces police enforcement.
These two Las Cruces mask mandates first came through emergency proclamations from Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and were later confirmed by city council votes.
Miyagishima told city councilors on Monday that he is planning an additional proclamation to loosen the rules of the mask.
Las Cruces City Attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown on Thursday said she was awaiting the “final input” from Mayor and City Manager Ifo Pili on the new proclamation, which is expected to be released on Friday, and said she couldn’t verify what was to come.
Draft language of the new proclamation sent to Sun-News of Miyagishima showed that the city would change its local ordinances to adhere to the May 14 public health ordinance, except that face masks would still be mandatory for everyone inside “all public facilities in the city of Las Cruces ”.
This would allow businesses in the city to leave vaccinated customers without a mask. The masks would still be needed on the city’s public transport, regardless of the vaccination, Miyagishima said.
After its publication, the emergency proclamation of the mayor of Las Cruces would be in effect for 72 hours and will have to be extended by a city council vote on Monday.
No local mandate in Mesilla
The city of Mesilla did not impose its own mask mandate after the onset of the pandemic and instead let state rules dictate what was enforced at any given time during the last year, the Mayor of Mesilla, Nora Barraza.
Now Barraza has said Mesilla is allowing new state rules to once again direct his local response. She said businesses in Mesilla and other entities are allowed to enforce whatever mask rule each wants under state guidelines, such as precautionary masking for those vaccinated.
For example, she said the municipal court will always require the masks to be worn by everyone.
“We’re all on the same page,” Barraza said of the city and the business. “We are all working very well together to enforce (mask requirements).”
The signs in the town square reminding visitors of the old mask rules have disappeared.