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Much of NM is ready to start reopening now

Amid these uncertain and challenging times, we ask ourselves and you: How can we as leaders respond in the short term to keep our citizens safe and our economy solvent?

We request that you work with us in a bipartisan manner to develop a comprehensive plan to reopen our state’s economy in a way that also protects public health.

This is a conversation that we must have now, as time is of the essence.

We believe we can implement policies that will expedite a recovery plan that is science-based, fair and equitable, and will keep our citizens safe.

Effective public policy can balance the economic needs of New Mexicans and the necessary mitigation of the pandemic. We feel sure our locally owned and operated businesses are up to the task of following the necessary public health guidelines. We trust them and we urge you to do the same.

In fact, many of them modified their business models to comply with your public health order and keep their establishments open and their employees working. They are certainly as capable of monitoring crowds, practicing social distancing, implementing a “no mask, no gloves, no service” policy, and deploying regular sanitizing procedures, as well as, or better than, the large retailers.

According to the U.S. Office of Small Business Administration, at last check there are 154,257 small businesses across the state, representing 99% of all New Mexico businesses. Small businesses employ 340,000 people, or 54% of the private workforce. We believe these small businesses are essential to the families that run them and the communities they serve. They are a vital part of New Mexico’s economy.

As you know, on Monday, United States oil prices plunged below zero for the first time ever, meaning oil producers must essentially pay someone $35 dollars to take a barrel of crude oil off their hands. It also means our state’s budget now depends almost entirely on the tax revenue generated by small businesses.

We recognize there are regions of the state where more drastic stay-at-home measures are still necessary; however COVID-19 is not uniformly affecting people in every county across the state.

As an example, Catron, Guadalupe, Lea, Lincoln, Luna, Otero, Quay, Roosevelt and San Miguel counties have each seen three or less cases. De Baca, Harding, Hidalgo, Mora, Sierra and Union counties haven’t had any cases. At the very least, these 15 counties should be on the road to economic recovery.

You say if we open too soon our health care system will be overwhelmed. Well, yes, hospitals are among the hardest hit – especially rural hospitals – but not due to COVID-19. The ban on nonessential procedures has caused a 40% to 60% decline in revenue, plus thousands of employees furloughed.

Laboratories, which are considered essential, are seeing a 70% reduction in screenings. This means women are not receiving Pap tests, which detect cervical cancer. Skin screenings that detect melanoma and other skin cancers that kill have sharply decreased. Surgical cancer cases are down 20%. As this continues, we will see an abrupt onset of acute and chronic illnesses and many more deaths.

Science and common sense dictate that a well-planned and responsible reopening of hospitals, businesses, and recreational facilities with appropriate safeguards would be fitting at this time and allow our citizens to resume some semblance of normal life.

As many states prepare to reopen their economies, including the Democratic governor of Colorado and all of our neighboring states, we, too, should be preparing to open for business.

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