New Mexico Closures of Grocery Stores Over Coronavirus Prompts Half-Mile Long Lines

Under a policy announced last month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), New Mexico currently has over a dozen grocery stores around the state closed for two weeks–including Albertsons, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Target stores–due to employees testing positive for the COVID-19 China coronavirus. This is causing great hardship in affected small towns where only one grocery store remains open, prompting lines of panicked shoppers estimated to be a half-mile long.

The closures are the result of the state’s Rapid Response Watchlist program that monitors grocery stores, retailers and restaurants for positive COVID tests of employees. One positive test prompts a “rapid response” by the state to quarantine the positive employees, isolate contacts for 14 days and clean the affected area, resulting in a partial closure of less than 24 hours. But when a store gets 4 rapid responses from the state within 14 days the entire store will be shut down for two weeks.

Excerpt from the New Mexico Rapid Response website FAQss:

Which businesses will close for two weeks once they reach four or more rapid responses in 14 calendar days?

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Any “food and drink establishment,” “place of lodging,” “retail space,” or “essential business” (other than those which meet the definition of a healthcare operation, utility, or media service) in which members of the public regularly visit, must immediately close for 14 days if there are four or more rapid responses within the last 14 days. These establishments are defined in the Nov. 13, 2020 public health order.

When there are four or more rapid responses at a location that meet the criteria for inclusion on the Watchlist (see question 3) within 14 calendar days, the New Mexico Environment Department will refer the establishment to the Department of Health, which will evaluate and make the decision on establishment closure. An “essential business” may be permitted to continue operating if the Department of Health, after consultation with the Environment Department, determines that the business is a necessary provider of goods or services within a community.

Who will enforce the public health order requirement to close for 14 days?

The New Mexico Department of Health will enforce the closure requirement. The Department of Health, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Environment Department and other state agencies are authorized to take all appropriate steps to ensure compliance with other aspects of the public health order. Report violations of the public health order here.

What are the consequences for a business that does not follow the public health order?

Failure to comply with the Public Health Order may result in penalties up to $5,000 per day by the New Mexico Department of Health and legal action. Other state agencies may separately initiate enforcement proceedings against the business.

Excerpt from KRQE-TV:

The New Mexico Health Department shut down two grocery stores in Roswell because of too many rapid responses due to COVID-19 exposures. In Carlsbad and Hobbs, they are down to one grocery store in each community after the other was closed for two weeks by the Health Department. Residents say this is causing some people to panic.

“The governor put in a new edict, I knew things would be crazy, and I’m not crazy, but if everybody else is crazy, then you kinda have to react to that and so I wanted to go pick up a few things just to make sure I didn’t have to go out this weekend or any other time. I pulled into the parking lot of Walmart at 6:58 and I did not walk into the store until 8:10,” said Michelle Martin, a concerned resident.

Michelle Martin said the lines this morning to get into Walmart stretched about a half-mile in Roswell. Now people say when a store closes for two weeks it greatly affects families in their community.

…”I mean you have the elderly waiting in line, standing out there luckily it was a nice cool morning but you have people in wheelchairs doing the same thing, or people with their children and this is the mass hysteria that is being created by this,” said Michelle.

KRQE video report:

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