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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect date for how long Safelite employees will be paid, based on information from a company executive. It has been corrected below.
Has Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order for the closure of nonessential businesses and banning congregations of more than five people fallen on deaf ears? Or are some people just confused?
New Mexico State Police have responded to more than 300 complaints of noncompliance since the governor’s order took effect Tuesday. Albuquerque police reported another 100 or so more.
People also have taken to social media, including to the governor’s Facebook page, and emails to the Journal to complain about smoke shops, hobby supply stores and estate sale companies that are continuing to hold sales where people may be congregating.
Several times the governor’s office has intervened to demand closure.
By Wednesday, the nonemergency hotline to which the governor referred noncompliance complaints on Monday was instructing people to send written emails to the State Police at firstname.lastname@example.org or call their local law enforcement.
Of the hundreds of people who have posted comments on the governor’s Facebook page this week, many focused on compliance issues.
Sonja Angelina White wrote: “Governor you are going to have to be more strict cause people are out more than ever since the stay at home order … No one is listening and businesses are still open despite your order.”
Sonna Corder wrote: “I noticed a ton of nonessential businesses open today. Unless jewelry stores are essential. It’s a shame people won’t follow direction. I definitely support stronger regulation.”
Doyle Raymond added, “Better start to work on enforcement. Here in Las Cruces people are breaking this left and right. God knows about law-abiding Albuquerque.”
As of Thursday, two call centers in Rio Rancho were closed.
Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary told the Journal, “As you know the order is clear that call centers are nonessential.
“We just clarified for them at Bank of America (call center) and they have closed the facility and my understanding is they were establishing a remote work model,” she said.
Meyers Sackett said another Rio Rancho call center, Safelite Solutions, “informed us they would be closing.”
A Bank of America spokesman told the Journal that every other state that has issued a similar closure order has made an exemption for banking support services, such as those provided by the several hundred employees at the Rio Rancho call center.
“When we became aware that there was an issue… we closed down temporarily,” the spokesman said.
Safelite executive vice president for customer experience Renee Cacchillo told the Journal the company’s Rio Rancho call center closed early Wednesday. Its 900 employees are being paid until April 6.
She said the assumption initially was that the call center was essential under the governor’s order, “so we were surprised to find out we weren’t.”
Prior to the new public health order, the governor on March 19 had prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and closed flea markets, theaters, gyms, indoor shopping malls and permitted only takeout and home delivery by restaurants and bars.
“While most New Mexicans and businesses have voluntarily even without an order complied with their social contract for responsibility, far too many New Mexicans are not doing that and are congregating in groups of well more than 10, are engaging in outdoor and social activities that create and pose risk … and are continuing to engage in retail activities that put far too many of your neighbors and far too many New Mexicans at risk,” Lujan Grisham said in announcing tighter restrictions on Monday.
Even before her announcement, State Police officers responded to Tower Park on Albuquerque’s West Side on Sunday to find numerous people congregated. “When officers arrived, the crowd dispersed without incident,” State Police spokesman Lt. Mark Soriano said Thursday.
State Police Chief Tim Johnson has mandated that officers “educate the noncompliant establishment about the requirements of the order and allow them a reasonable opportunity to adapt,” Soriano told the Journal in an email.
After an initial report from a citizen, an officer will telephone the business and speak with the manager. On a second report, the officer will make face-to-face contact with the business and speak directly with the owner or manager. On a third or subsequent offense, enforcement action may be taken on the business.
Violations of the Public Emergency Response Act are a petty misdemeanor offense and result in a fine of up to $100 and up to six months imprisonment or both.
No citations had been issued by State Police as of Thursday afternoon. Johnson also is enlisting the help of local law enforcement and sheriffs’ agencies to help with noncompliance calls.
Gilbert Gallegos, Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, told the Journal that since the governor’s enhanced order took effect, APD has received 105 calls via its 311 phone number and one directly from a citizen.
“Callers are reporting everything from stores not having enough space between customers or enough check-out lines to landscapers working or employers not maintaining social distance guidelines to people in parks, etc.”
He said some calls received are from “citizens reporting other residents for not staying home.”
But some businesses, like the Bestway Cleaners, which has three Albuquerque locations, remain open because they are considered essential businesses. Owner Lisa Pruitt said the company cleans the uniforms for first responders who might be exposed to the virus.
“We take care of first responders of all kinds, and medical teams bring their uniforms here,” said Pruitt, who said based on information from the U.S. Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute and the Centers for Disease Control, “dry cleaning provides the heat that kills the virus.”
Social media responses to the governor have been wide-ranging:
“We have so many non-essential business open in Santa Fe. Mayor is doing nothing,” Teresa Lambert wrote.
“Your directive was NOT stringent enough. I am sad to see some non-essential businesses still open, people still in groups,” wrote Sarah Muniz Martinez. “I’ve seen more people … out and about today than I ever have on a Tuesday.”
“More parties at the plumber’s house across from my home,” Kay Towne wrote. “Police did nothing.”
Others complained about crafting stores, adding, “No one needs crafting supplies to be open.”
Another man wrote, “Local law enforcement is not going to be going out of their way to look for +5 groups … People have gone crazy and law enforcement are more overwhelmed with actual crimes now. This is a joke.”