Who had a governor is going to shut down grocery stores due to the pandemic on their 2020 coronavirus bingo card? If you did, stamp that square. The governor of New Mexico is shutting down grocery stores in her state over COVID-19 testing results.
Just when we thought that liquor sales restrictions in Pennsylvania by Governor Wolf were arbitrary and, frankly, stupid, along comes Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico with a “hold my beer” response. She has shut down a dozen grocery stores across the state. Why would a governor make such a draconian move? A public health order from the governor’s office shut down more than 25 essential businesses Monday with four or more rapid responses of COVID-19 cases reported within a 14-day period. The order requires the businesses to close for two weeks. That’s right, any business that reports four or more positive COVID-19 tests in a two week period must then shut down for two weeks, essential business or not.
The first question that comes to mind is one I frequently have with these kinds of stories – why was that number chosen as the shut-down standard? Setting the limit of four cases over a two week period doesn’t make sense, especially in grocery stores. According to this, the average number of employees for an average-sized grocery store is 72 full-time employees. The number set by this Democrat governor seems to be arbitrary at best. Some of the stores closed by Grisham are of the larger variety – like Walmart, for example.
The closures include two Walmarts in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe, an Albertson’s in Roswell, a Smiths Food & Drug Center in Albuquerque and New Mexico Food Distribution Center in Albuquerque. There is already an order in place that limits capacity at all stores.
The state’s environment department has published a complete list of businesses that have been closed due to employees testing positive for COVID-19, as well as a watch list, and FAQ about the watch list.
Access to purchase food is now limited because of another order issued by the governor requiring capacity limitations at all stores. New Mexicans are now waiting outside, standing in line for up to two hours, local news reports indicate, which the governor’s office has disputed.
When questioned, the governor’s office denied that people are standing in long lines to enter grocery stores due to restrictions. Critics also point to the fact that most store workers are in low paying jobs and struggling themselves to financially survive the pandemic. New Mexico suffers from high unemployment and food insecurity in many parts of the state. By closing down some stores, the governor further limits store choices in some communities and puts people out of work.
The governor’s office issued a statement to KOB4 News TV, saying, “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 – surely you and everyone in New Mexico can agree that not one of us would like to be shopping among staff that are contagious.”
The point, though, isn’t about whether any community is wholly shut out of the ability to purchase food. It is that choices are being limited and employees are facing unnecessary hardships due to no fault of their own. The governor is picking winners and losers with an overly restrictive policy, one that I would argue shouldn’t even be in place for essential businesses. What is more essential than food? It’s a basic necessity for everyone. How could closing stores not result in longer lines and periods of waiting to enter a grocery store abiding by capacity limitations? For people living in some communities, purchasing food was difficult enough before the pandemic.
Less than six months after the state’s shutdown began, a report by Feeding America found that New Mexico was one of the worst food-insecure states in the country. The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on people facing hunger across the country, Feeding America found in a recent report, especially in New Mexico.
In 2019, 315,990 New Mexicans, including 114,180 children, did not have adequate access to nutritious food, Feeding America reported, a problem that existed well before record unemployment plagued the state. The organization estimates the number to grow to 434,570, including 162,960 children, or 21 percent, by the end of 2020.
Businesses have put in place mitigation measures inside stores to protect both customers and employees. Deep cleaning, face mask mandates, plexiglass barriers at check-out registers, hand sanitizer readily available upon entering the store, using antiseptic wipes on grocery carts, and social distancing inside the store are all procedures used in grocery stores of all sizes. There is no need to shut down a whole store because of a small number of positive tests among employees over a two week period.
New Mexico is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases. It’s understandable that the governor is alarmed and trying to stop the spread of the virus in her state. This, however, isn’t the way to go about it. This is an authoritarian move that hurts the most vulnerable during a stressful time. Grocery stores provide an essential service. Period.