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New Mexico invokes riot act to seal roads into Gallup as coronavirus cases surge

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives an update on the COVID-19 outbreak during a news conference in Santa Fe on April 15.
(Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

The governor of New Mexico invoked the state’s Riot Control Act on Friday as she sealed off all roads to nonessential traffic in the city of Gallup to help control a surging coronavirus outbreak in the former trading post city on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also announced a ban on routine outings and ordered businesses to close from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the city of about 70,000 people along Interstate 40.

COVID-19 infection rates in Gallup and surrounding McKinley County make it one of the worst U.S. hotspots for the pandemic as patients overwhelm intensive care facilities.

Lujan Grisham said the virus has run amok in McKinley County and physical distancing is not being maintained among residents.

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“A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this contagious, is a problem for our entire state,” she said.

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State police will assist local law enforcement and the National Guard will participate in a non-law enforcement capacity, the governor’s office said.

Federal health officials have linked the severity of the problem in Gallup to an early outbreak at a drug treatment center that was followed by infections among homeless people. Complaints about people flouting social distancing and face mask requirements at Gallup stores are widespread.

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Medical researchers are puzzled over why the coronavirus — which typically lasts about two weeks in the body — endures far longer in some patients.

The city requested that the governor declare a state of emergency under the riot act that can prohibit people from walking the streets and using certain roads.

Violations are punishable as misdemeanors on a first offense and as a felony on the second offense.

Gallup is a hub for basic household supplies and liquor sales for people living in remote stretches of the Navajo Nation and indigenous Zuni Pueblo. The Navajo Nation has imposed evening and weekend curfews on the reservation spanning portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

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Tensions between police and members of New York City’s Hasidic Jewish community flared again as officers interrupted a crowded funeral to crack down on social distancing violators.

McKinley County has at least 1,027 confirmed cases of COVID-19, accounting for more than 30% of cases in New Mexico. It has far more infections than counties with major population centers such as Albuquerque, Rio Rancho or Las Cruces.

The infection trend has shown no sign of flattening, according to state health officials.


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