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River of Lights, other winter events canceled

The River of Lights at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. It and other popular holiday events have been canceled this year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With COVID-19 rampaging across Albuquerque, the city has pulled the plug on the popular River of Lights spectacle and other major winter events.

Officials on Monday announced the cancellation of the River of Lights display at the ABQ BioPark, the Twinkle Light Parade through Nob Hill, the ABQ Ride Luminaria Tour, the public Old Town tree lighting ceremony and shop-and-stroll, and the New Year’s Eve Before Dark festivities.

“Those are all such amazing and beautiful, successful events that bring thousands of people together, which is why we can’t make that happen this year,” Albuquerque Cultural Services Director Shelle Sanchez said during the city’s virtual COVID-19 media briefing Monday.

Officials say they are currently looking at possible COVID-safe alternatives to some of the canceled events.

The Luminaria Tour is so popular that it has in recent years sold out all 3,600 tickets in a matter of hours, according to a city spokesman.

Sanchez said the news of the cancellations should surprise no one given the public health crisis.

The city of Albuquerque has canceled several major winter events, including the River of Lights display and the ABQ Ride Luminaria Tour, as coronavirus cases in New Mexico continue to rise. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Bernalillo County – New Mexico’s most populous county – reported 4,675 new COVID-19 infections last week, which is about 2,000 more than just the week prior, Mayor Tim Keller said. Although the surge is not unique to the city, the mayor noted that while Albuquerque has so far fared better than other southwestern U.S. metro areas during the pandemic, that is no longer the case.

The number of COVID-19 tests in New Mexico coming back positive is now 20%, which is higher than Colorado, Arizona and Utah, according to data Keller presented.

“This is a very big concern,” the mayor said Monday.

The city has continued to monitor compliance with public health orders that require mask usage, limit capacity in stores and force the closure of certain nonessential businesses. The effort includes environmental health inspectors, the fire marshal’s office and, if needed, the Albuquerque Police Department. Over the last week, APD cited Crunch Fitness at 840 Juan Tabo NE for staying open despite a state order closing gyms. Enforcement staff also issued notice of violation warnings to three big-box stores – Staples, OfficeMax and Conn’s HomePlus – though Fire Marshal Gene Gallegos said follow-up visits showed they each had achieved compliance.

APD is ready to help enforce the orders should calls come in about Thanksgiving parties, Deputy Chief Michael Smathers said, though he said it would be a lower priority call ideally handled with education.

But “if it came to it, yes, we would help to enforce the public health order,” Smathers said.

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