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New Mexico officials urge employers to require vaccinations

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s Democratic governor and dozens of other elected officials are urging the state’s business community to require that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or alternatively undergo regular testing.

Those steps are necessary to stop the current increased spread of the coronavirus as infections increase, according to the letter released Friday and sent to employers and business groups.

The 28 signers include Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham., U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury but not U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, the congressional delegation’s sole Republican member.

“Requiring vaccination of your workforce – and/or requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test of the patrons who visit and support your business – is within your right as an employer,” the letter said. “Implementing that sort of policy to help New Mexico finally end this pandemic is within your power as a community leader.”

New Mexico state employees are required to be vaccinated or get tested regularly.

The elected officials’ letter cited increased cases and hospitalizations. “In short, the pandemic is not over,” the letter said.

An increasing number of private employers across the country recently have started requiring employees to get vaccinated, and the officials’ letter encouraged private businesses to do the same.

“Vaccine resistance — often fueled by misinformation and propaganda — stands in the way,” the letter said. “We need to finish the job. And we need your help.”

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said some employers have legitimate liability concerns about mandating the vaccines without a state order to do so.

Cole said the concern might be reduced if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved beyond emergency-use authorization and granted full approval to the vaccines.

“As a business community,” Cole said, “we obviously believe that the way out of this pandemic is to get workers and residents vaccinated. We can’t say that strongly enough.”

Matthew Dominguez, the general manager of Sadie’s of New Mexico restaurant chain, said what the elected officials wanted wasn’t a bad idea but that it could hurt business.

“If it’s not mandated and just recommended, and we are part of only a handful of restaurants trying to implement something like that, then 100% I think that is something that would hinder us from getting new employees,” Dominguez said.

University of New Mexico law professor Josh Kastenberg said union agreements, religious beliefs and medical conditions could limit what employers do in regard to their employees but refusing service to unvaccinated customers would pose no legal issue.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Mexico, reached their highest level Friday since February –- 216 patients in state hospitals, three times as many as a month ago.