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City moves to resume a range of services as state starts to reopen

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

It will soon be possible to once again borrow a bestseller from the library or watch polar bears swim at the zoo.

About two months after Albuquerque halted most nonessential public services, city leaders say they will bring a few of them back now that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is relaxing certain restrictions implemented in March to combat COVID-19.

As part of a “Phase 1” reopening plan, Albuquerque will reopen its office buildings and some outdoor recreation facilities – such as the shooting range and racket-sport venues – next week. By early June, the city plans to reopen portions of the ABQ BioPark and restart service at libraries.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus service will return June 13, though in a potentially reduced capacity.

Other facilities, such as city pools, remain off limits for now per current state guidance.

“We plan to reopen in step with the state guidance for phase 1,” Mayor Tim Keller said during a media briefing livestreamed Thursday from City Hall. “But it’s not going to happen overnight, so you’re going to have to give us a few weeks.”

Keller has repeatedly warned that Albuquerque’s distinction as New Mexico’s largest city, and a statewide hub for shopping, health care and air travel may require longer, tighter restrictions. He said Thursday that is the case for large cities in other states, citing Denver. But Albuquerque’s rate of COVID-19 spread is low enough to begin reopening with the rest of the state, he said.

“Down the road, we hope that’s always the case, but if it’s not, like Denver, we’ll take our own action,” he said.

The city’s 49-page reopening plan outlines different rules for specific facilities. The Open Space Visitor Center, for example, will reopen next week, but no more than 25 people are allowed inside and the public cannot access the conference room or some other parts of the property.

Libraries should open June 2, but will not provide seating or public computer usage during Phase 1.

The BioPark, scheduled to reopen to members June 2 and to the general public June 9, will have timed ticketing that limits on-site attendance to 300 people at once.

Sarita Nair, the city’s chief administrative officer, said guests can expect many new protocols at the zoo and elsewhere as the city moves ahead. She urged people to remain respectful and kind.

“This Phase 1 reopening is going to require a lot of patience and understanding from our employees, from the public,” she said. “There are going to continue to be lines to get into places – you are going to have to maybe wait in line to get into an elevator. Things may open and they may need to close again.

“Frustration is going to be part of that process.”

Now that the governor has mandated New Mexicans wear masks in public, except when eating, drinking or exercising, the city will also require them at its facilities. The city plans to have some face coverings available to those without them and will deny entrance to people who are not wearing masks and do not accept those offered, said Jessie Damazyn, a spokeswoman for Keller’s office.

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