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County asks to reopen business early

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Sandoval County Commission is calling for the state to allow local businesses to reopen before May 15, with pandemic safety rules.

Sandoval County Administration Building

Commissioners approved the resolution along party lines Thursday night. Chairman David Heil said resolutions can establish policy or communicate a position.

“In this case, it is a position many of our constituents would like us to share,” he said.

Commissioners are requesting the governor allow a phased reopening of businesses that can comply with state occupancy and social-distancing standards. The resolution includes non-profits closed by executive and public-health orders.

The resolution passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Katherine Bruch and Kenneth Eichwald, the two Democrats on the commission, voting no.

“This is not about swinging the doors open with wild abandonment,” Heil said. “This is about sharing opinions of many small businesses and constituents that many small businesses can be as effective, maybe even more effective, at applying those safeguards that would further support the health secretary’s position that social distancing is the way New Mexicans can minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

According to the resolution, safeguards include:

• Limiting the number of people per square foot permitted to occupy an office or business,

• Limiting the number of persons who may gather,

• Establishing social-distance requirements, and

• Requiring the use of face masks and gloves.

The resolution recognizes small business as the backbone of the economy and says that in rural areas, small businesses and non-profits perform essential services.

“I think it is disingenuous to say the governor is picking winners and losers with her health orders. Essential businesses are defined by what they do, sell and provide, not by how large they are or whether they are local or national,” Bruch said.

Commissioner Jay Block said he believes all business and their employees are essential.

“The people of this county and of the state are economically scared to have the ability to pay their bills, their employees, their business expenses, to support their families, attend medical appointments and other day-to-day functions to quality of life,” Block said.

There are over 400 cases of COVID-19 in Sandoval County as of press time, but Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull said last week in a radio interview that only 65 of them are in the City of Vision.

Most cases are consolidated in the county’s seven pueblos and three tribes, Heil said.

“We must all be concerned with the health emergency mandates to best protect and serve Native Americans’ health and welfare,” Heil said. “I understand that some of the Native American residents have been denied entry into stores, which is a terrible discrimination that cannot be tolerated.”

Eichwald said that as of Thursday night, the commission was eight days away from learning what the governor would do.

“I don’t know how many other counties have taken this initiative, but why do we need to do that?” he said.

Eichwald added he was against opening non-essential business in the county early.

“By opening now, for those who go to open, you are saying, ‘Some of you people will die, but that is OK because you are willing to do that for me,'” he said.

COVID-19 will infect people no matter what their political beliefs are, said Bruch and Eichwald.

Block said a blanket policy of shutdown and regulations does not work for every county and municipality.

“These are people’s lives we are talking about,” Block said. “It is not just Sandoval County asking; this it is the entire state of New Mexico asking this.”

At the end of the meeting, Heil thanked his fellow commissioners for a civilized discussion.

“It is good to have a discussion with different opinions on an issue and to be able to do it civilly, knowing that tomorrow or the next issue we deal with, we may not all agree but the discussion will be civil,” Heil said.

The next Sandoval County Commission meeting will be at 4 p.m. May 21 via live stream.



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