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All roads into Gallup, New Mexico, are closed over "uninhibited" COVID-19 spread

Experts warn pandemic could be far from over
Experts warn pandemic could be far from over 04:03

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the state's Riot Control Act on Friday to essentially lock down the city of Gallup after its mayor requested that she do so on Thursday. Under the act, all roads leading into Gallup are now closed off "to mitigate the uninhibited spread of COVID-19 in that city."

"Effective at 12 p.m., May 1, all roads into Gallup are closed. Businesses in the city of Gallup will close from 5 p.m. through 8 a.m. Vehicles may only have a maximum of two individuals. Residents of the city should remain at home except for emergency outings and those essential for health, safety and welfare," Grisham's office said in a press release.

Gallup, a city of nearly 22,000 people about 100 miles west of Albuquerque, has been particularly affected by the coronavirus. As of Friday, McKinley County, where Gallup is located, had 1,027 confirmed cases and 19 deaths, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. The county now has the highest number of cases in all of New Mexico, which has 3,411 cases in total. 

Virus Outbreak-New Mexico
This photo provided by Patrick Sandoval shows authorities cordon off sections of the roadway in Gallup, New Mexico, on Friday, May 1, 2020.  Patrick Sandoval via AP

According to Grisham's press release, McKinley County has "more than 30 percent of the state's total positive COVID-19 cases and the most positive cases in the entire state, outstripping even far more populous counties."  

"Its infection trend has shown no sign of flattening," the release said. "The county has reported an additional 207 positive cases in the last two days alone, more than every other county in the state has reported total over the length of the pandemic save three."

In his letter asking the governor to declare a state of emergency within the city limits, outgoing Gallup mayor Jack McKinney described the city's outbreak as a "crisis of the highest order."

"The virus has caused many deaths, stretched medical facilities and resources to their capacity, and adversely impacted the welfare of the city of Gallup," he wrote on Thursday. "Our community is unable to adequately address the outbreak without the imposition of certain restrictions necessary to regulate social distancing, public gatherings, sales of good, and the use of public streets."

McKinney made the request hours before his term officially ended; his successor, mayor Louis Bonaguidi, followed with a near-identical letter on Friday. Later in the day, Grisham granted their request.

In addition to closing roads into the city, under the Riot Control Act, the governor can also prohibit people from being on public streets, among other broad emergency restrictions. Gallup's emergency order will expire at noon on Monday, May 4.

In Grants, New Mexico, a town of around 9,000 people just east of McKinley County, Mayor Martin "Modey" Hicks and a group of supporters rallied Monday to encourage business owners in his community to defy the governor's lockdown order. Hicks has vowed to allow all small businesses to reopen in Grants, despite warnings from Grisham that such a move could put people at risk.

The governor has said the mayor's plan makes "absolutely no sense whatsoever," and warned that State Police would continue enforcing the order. On Thursday, Grisham officially extended the state's emergency public health order through May 15. 

"These changes do not make our fight against the virus any easier; in fact, New Mexicans' obligation to our social contract only deepens as we enter the next phase," Grisham said in a press release. "The best defense against this virus, until there is a vaccine, is physical distance from other people."

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