On Feb. 11, all travel restrictions for anyone entering or exiting New Mexico were lifted, and schools in the state have also began to reopen for in-person instruction.

Dr. Kristin Kuhlmann, Ph.D., director of the nursing program at Eastern New Mexico University, shared her thoughts on what lifting the travel restrictions means for New Mexico and what this could mean for schools and businesses that are beginning to reopen. She also discussed the effectiveness of vaccinations, when they will likely be available for all people, and what steps ENMU is taking to protect students and faculty when the campus reopens.

Though the travel restriction for New Mexico have been lifted, Kuhlmann said the state health department is still recommending that people traveling to New Mexico from outside the state and residents who have traveled elsewhere and returned “self-quarantine for 14 days or get a negative [COVID-19] test.” She also said that this means the orders where “people are ticketed or fined” if they don’t quarantine or test upon entering the state have been lifted.

Kuhlmann also said that it is “entirely possible” that lifting these restrictions could cause COVID-19 cases in New Mexico to rise again, because of the “huge escalation of cases, deaths and hospitalizations” after the holidays and the variants “coming in”. However, she also said, “we have been seeing a real sharp decline in the past couple of weeks in both cases and hospitalizations,” though death rates are coming down “a little slower.”

The state had previously partly lifted indoor dining restrictions, where a lower percentage of people could dine inside. They ultimately had to raise the restrictions again, because it was “such an obvious cause” of spread, Kuhlmann said. She referenced this to the possibility of the state having to reinstate travel restrictions if COVID-19 cases spike again.

She said that “all of [this] is of concern,” including schools reopening to in-person learning; however, the solution would be to get people to follow medical advice, such as mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and stopping large gatherings.

Despite the concern, Kuhlmann said “we have to [open] sometime” because all people are struggling. For education, she said, “it’s really difficult” to get “the optimal education” fully online, particularly for majors such as science, music and art. She also added that some faculty and community members have already received their vaccinations or signed up to get it.

Right now, the university is planning to reopen for in-person learning in August for the fall semester. She said that if everyone who is considered high risk gets their vaccination, and the “at home rapid testing” for COVID-19 becomes available, then ENMU should be able to reopen. She added the precautions are being set up for social distancing and screening for the virus for when the school does reopen.

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