Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico National Guard members are being called upon to help with food, water and crowd control as part of the state’s coronavirus response effort.
Most recently, about 50 National Guard members were deployed to Gallup last week to help with coronavirus testing and with community social distancing efforts, National Guard spokesman Joseph Vigil said.
Specifically, Gallup City Manager Maryann Ustick said in a news release the National Guard members would be helping grocery stores to enforce the social distancing measures, which include only allowing 20% of a store’s maximum capacity to be inside at any time.
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said there have been long lines at local grocery stores in recent days, and some individuals have flouted instructions to keep distance between themselves and others.
“We asked them to come in and start putting some control in lines,” Muñoz said regarding the National Guard.
He also said the deployed National Guard members could assist with protocols at a local detox center, after several individuals who had spent a night there tested positive for COVID-19.
“We need to be locked down – people are not listening,” Muñoz said, referring to a statewide stay-at-home order issued last month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.
Gallup is the county seat of McKinley County, which has a high Native American population and has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
Many members of the Navajo Nation drive long distances to buy essential supplies in Gallup and other nearby towns.
Meanwhile, National Guard members have also been helping with food distribution and other humanitarian tasks on the Navajo Nation, which also stretches into Arizona and Utah.
In all, the National Guard has about 450 soldiers and airmen on duty, Vigil said.
Their duties have included delivering nearly 50,000 meals to children at schools around the state and transporting medical supplies – including masks, gloves and other protective equipment – to health care facilities, according to the state National Guard’s spokesman.
He also said the National Guard has delivered over 5,000 coronavirus test kits and transported thousands of test samples to laboratories in Albuquerque.
In Farmington, which has also been hit hard by the outbreak, the National Guard set up a 50-bed medical shelter and has been helping at the San Juan Regional Medical Center, Vigil said.
Lujan Grisham last month issued an executive order authorizing up to $750,000 in emergency funding for National Guard operations.
That was in addition to previous orders that had authorized $1 million in National Guard spending for the budget year that ends in June.