SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s governor is calling a special legislative session next week in the hope of providing new economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic and aggressive emergency restrictions.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement Thursday as daily infections statewide surged to new highs. Health officials reported 3,675 new positive COVID-19 tests — a daily record — with 12 related deaths. The number of hospitalizations also increased to 774 people, with 125 on ventilators.
The governor described it as “exponential growth” in virus cases.
Lujan Grisham offered few details on her relief package, noting that she has been in discussions with legislative leaders and hoped funding would flow by next month. Earlier, she said economic aid is needed for businesses and those who have lost their jobs.
New Mexico this week implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the country, attempting a “reset” on the outbreak, with closures extending to all restaurants and many other businesses. The vast majority of schools also are closed.
More retail stores are shutting down in-person sales ahead of the critical holiday shopping season because of changes to the state health order aimed at shrinking a loophole for big-box stores. Others have shut down for at least two weeks after staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Thursday, Lujan Grisham tightened a loophole in the health order, allowing big box stores to remain open as long as they offer essential goods and services.
The governor has been criticized for allowing chain stores like Walmart to allow in-person customers for nonessential purchases like TVs, along with essential ones like groceries, while small businesses selling only nonessential goods can’t open.
Under the updated order, essential goods like food and animal feed now must account for more than one-third of a store’s revenue for it to allow customers inside. Bike stores and mechanic shops can stay open, as long as transportation-related goods and services make up half or more of their revenue.
State officials named Hobby Lobby and Ross Dress for Less as examples of stores that would have to end indoor sales for now. Curbside sales and delivery are allowed.
Some other big-box stores are closed, but not because of the definitions in the health order.
Walmart Supercenters in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces were told to close Wednesday after more than four staffers who were in the stores over a two-week period tested positive for COVID-19, the New Mexico Environment Department said. A Target in Santa Fe has been closed since Nov. 13.
Those stores could reopen after two weeks, in time for some holiday sales.
“When the store reopens, in addition to continuing with all our preventative measures, (we) will test associates in this store, as we are doing with all of our workers in New Mexico,” Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield. “We have protocols in place to help ensure compliance with the requirements of New Mexico health and safety orders, and we will continue working with local and state officials as they work to manage this health crisis.”
Hatfield said grocery sales generally make up about 50% of Walmart’s business.
Meanwhile, the website for outdoor recreation retailer REI showed stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque were open.
Both locations include a bike shop that counts as an essential service under the health order, but it’s unclear how much of their revenue comes from that section of the store.
REI is considered an essential business, spokeswoman Halley Knigge said, citing its bicycle shop.
“Beyond bicycles, outdoor apparel and gear, the co-op also sells emergency supplies, food, emergency cooking, water filtration,” Knigge said.
Knigge did not respond to questions about whether the breakdown of REI’s revenue allows it to be open under the updated health order and how restrictions could affect holiday sales.
“We recognize the unique role we play in helping our members and customers get outside. We believe operating a limited capacity is a way for us to safely serve our members and customers,” Knigge said.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.