Grocery Stores and Other ‘Essential’ Businesses Can Be Shut Down Under NM’s New Lockdown Rules

Grocery stores in New Mexico can now be closed along with every other type of business under a strict state edict that says any business must shut down for two weeks if there are repeated instances in which employees test positive for the coronavirus.

The list of forced closures contained five Walmarts and four stores in the Albertsons chain of grocery stores. As of Sunday, most had been allowed to reopen.

On Nov. 13, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials issued an emergency health order to be in effect through Monday in which “New Mexicans are instructed to stay at home except for only those trips that are essential to health, safety and welfare – such as for food and water, emergency medical care, to obtain a flu shot or to obtain a test for COVID-19.”

“Essential businesses — such as grocery stores, pharmacies, shelters, child care facilities, gas stations, infrastructure operations and others — must minimize operations and in-person staffing to the greatest extent possible but may remain open for limited essential in-person activities,” the order stated.

The state required that “certain establishments close for two weeks if they have four or more rapid responses within the last 14 days. The closure requirement applies to food and drink establishments, retail spaces, places of lodging, close-contact businesses as defined in the Nov. 13, 2020 public health order, and essential businesses (other than healthcare operations, utility and media services),” it said on its website.

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The state defined a “rapid response” as “when one or more employees tests positive for COVID-19.”

The result of the closures, coupled with a limit of 25 percent of capacity in any store, was lengthy waits for service at stores that were open.

“I’m seeing longer lines,” Jose Cello Coroba, an Albuquerque resident, said, according to KOAT-TV.

Although the governor said her order was not responsible for longer lines, Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce disagreed in a statement from the GOP published by KRWG-TV.

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“The governor is dead wrong. The state is forcing people to stand in long lines,” he said in the statement.

“I, myself, stood in line outside Walmart 40 minutes to get access to groceries. Seniors are also finding it tough during these long waits. Many New Mexicans live in rural areas and can’t travel long distances for food. It’s shameful that the administration is politicizing this,” he said.

“People are struggling, really hurting now as a result of the governor’s mandate. These lines are real, painful, and it’s remarkable that the administration has turned a blind eye to them,” he said.

But the governor said her order was the right step to take to head off a resurgence of the coronavirus.

“You can’t have a grocery store or another big box store that sells groceries if all of the employees or the vast majority of them have COVID,” Lujan Grisham said, according to KOB-TV.

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“You can’t open up and that’s the issue,” she added.

Her office later issued a statement that said, “There is no community in the state of New Mexico where COVID-19 closures have closed off all food and water or medicine options for any community or group of people. Every single community where the virus is forcing closures has alternate stores, alternate resources. Moreover, stores are only ordered closed for the protection of public safety when the store’s staff members have an abundance of COVID-19 infections among them.”

The statement also noted that, under the rules, “if you have tested positive for COVID-19, you may not leave your home.”

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