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Dozens of protesters urge state to reopen businesses

Heather Winklejohn joins dozens of other protesters near Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque on Friday to demand government officials re-open businesses. (Anthony Jackson/ Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Monica Sanchez’s husband is unemployed. Her biggest fear is having to wait in line for food boxes and not being able to pay her bills.

That’s why she joined more than 100 other protesters near Albuquerque Civic Plaza Friday morning to call for government officials to reopen New Mexico’s nonessential businesses.

“Bills are not getting paid. People can’t work,” Sanchez said. “People can’t just wait around for a check from the government … I’m not going to watch my grandkids starve.”

On March 18, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a public health order to limit or close businesses that weren’t essential such as malls and gyms to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

As protesters gathered off of Marquette Avenue waving signs calling for the reopening of businesses on Friday, more than 40 drivers laid into their horns as they circled City Hall. Many of their passengers waved American flags and banners. Despite orders to social distance, protesters gathered in groups of two to three with some wearing masks and others not.

Kai Sandoval, the lead organizer for the Albuquerque protest and another one in Santa Fe asked anyone who planned to demonstrate on foot to “wear gloves and masks.” But not everyone heeded the advice.

“I don’t have the right to force somebody to do something that they don’t want to,” Sandoval said. “If they choose to take their risk, then that is their choice.”

He said he organized the protests because he wants government officials to know that if “big box stores” can implement ways to slow down the spread of the virus then so can small stores.

“The governor needs to recognize the way that things are going now are not sensible,” Sandoval said.

The protest in Santa Fe calling for the governor to reopen the state was the second one there in less than a week.

Public health officials and others have said New Mexico has either hit its peak in new coronavirus cases or is about to. But protesters interviewed by the Journal said they are not worried.

Holding a sign that read “#Reopen,” Lupe Conley, a 60-year-old, retired Albuquerque resident said she isn’t afraid of being infected.

“I think (the governor) has gone overboard,” Conley said. “The power has gone to her head.”

Data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions shows over 74,000 people are unemployed, which is nearing 10% of the workforce in the state. The unemployment number spiked after the governor’s public health order to temporarily close nonessential businesses.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, during a Wednesday news conference, noted that infection rates in the state have been slowing, but she warned that “we’re not out of the fight yet.” She said she planned to extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15.

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