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Editorial: Governor’s COVID-19 reset makes sense, but film exemption doesn’t

Given the staggering increase in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths New Mexico is experiencing, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the right call in reimposing the Land of Enchantment’s version of a lockdown – described by the Washington Post as the strictest in the nation.

The explosion of the virus left the governor little choice – despite the devastating effect on businesses, the economy and lives – when she ordered a two-week “reset” that began Monday.

What happens next is anyone’s guess as too many people ignore mask, social distancing and stay-at-home rules and testing sites are swamped with people trying to find out if they are infected.

Unfortunately, there is a “but” attached to the governor’s action that lends support to those who argue she is picking winners and losers – big box vs. mom & pop, for example. And that perception erodes important public support for the health orders.

While the governor banned indoor and outdoor dining, sidelined people who make a living grooming pets and cutting hair and limited “non-essential” businesses to curbside delivery, the film industry will be allowed to continue production.

Asked directly by the New Mexico Hospitality Association whether movie crews had to shut down production, the state’s answer was clear and succinct. “No.”

The whole idea of “essential” as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic is supposed to be based on providing services essential to the public. How a raft of vampire films fits that description is anyone’s guess. While the industry was largely shut down in the earlier closures that began last spring, the state now says they are considered essential as part of the “media.”

That’s a pretty clear case of “Loophole 101” and reminiscent of the strained interpretation of the rules that allowed New Mexico United to practice here and play its games out of state despite strict quarantine rules and health orders.

Granted, the film industry employs a lot of people and generates a significant economic impact – albeit subsidized heavily by New Mexico taxpayers.

No one wishes ill for those who work in the industry, and the state takes pride in much of the creative work being done here.

The industry also deserves credit for developing COVID-safe practices in filming.

But perceived fairness is an important part in garnering public support, and convincing people the film production jobs are “essential” while so many other New Mexicans have suddenly lost their livelihoods takes a real leap of political imagination. Sophistry at its best.

Because it’s hard to argue that a movie “in which a group of friends break into a home and unwittingly unleash a killer vampire” is essential – entertainment value notwithstanding. That’s one of the films touted by the state Film Office earlier this month.

Another follows “a group of internet influencers who are drawn to a reclusive, seductive billionaire’s mansion only to find themselves trapped in the lair of an evil vampire. The only way out is to be saved by a famous online gamer and an old school vampire hunter.”

It’s hard to generate excitement for seeing those films if you just found yourself without a job and a paycheck or your business is in danger of being closed for good.

The governor made the right move with the lockdown (especially considering 3,675 cases Thursday and 2,993 Friday), but unfortunately has undercut her policies again, this time by playing favorites when it comes to filmmaking.

It seems it still pays to be the cool kid in the class. And that’s just wrong.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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