Officials from southeast New Mexico welcomed lifting of COVID-19 restrictions by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham July 1, but expressed concern over emergency powers and extended unemployment benefits.
The governor confirmed New Mexico would retire its color-coded, county-by-county system and all COVID-19 health restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities as state officials continued to push for 60% of the state to receive a vaccination, a number reached just this week.
State Sen. David Gallegos (R-41) said he was grateful the governor relaxed the restrictions, which he said were the result of “too much authority” via emergency executive powers.
“We thought the Legislature would be called in if it would prolong or be expensive and none of that was relevant,” he said.
“It gives her all the authority because it’s Department of Health and it’s a health emergency. I think we’re beyond the COVID (19) health emergency,” he said.
Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, said the State was within its legal rights in managing the crisis and aid to support New Mexico families and businesses during the pandemic.
“The best way to continue New Mexico’s full reopening safely is by getting vaccinated, and I hope that Sen. Gallegos will join us in encouraging his community members to protect themselves by doing so,” she said.
Village of Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford said the news came as tourists flocked to Lincoln County’s population center for the summer.
He said businesses in Ruidoso weathered rules and health orders during COVID-19, and now were addressing hiring challenges.
“Businesses are doing much better. Something that we need to look at is this unemployment benefit and because the biggest thing I hear from businesses that are trying to get 100 percent open and recover is they don’t have any employees,” Crawford said.
He said extended unemployment benefits were to blame, linking the issue to the decision by the area’s workforce to stay home.
“We need to get our workers back so we can try and fully recover from the pandemic,” he said.
Unemployment benefits from the 2021 American Rescue Plan expire in September.
Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said the governor’s announcement was “too little and too late,” as the City moved ahead in planning one of its largest yearly events.
“People out here have been living their lives and they will continue to do so,” he said.
“We have the UFO Festival coming July 2. We were going ahead with that anyway. We had to make decisions to lock down vendors and performers, so we did.”
Carlsbad Department of Development Executive Director John Waters said the reopening was overdue for the Carlsbad and Eddy County business community.
“We’re ready to get back to life,” he said.
Waters said all types of businesses were affected, including doctor’s offices and restaurants.
“In the restaurant industry some didn’t make it,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to be told to close your doors.”
As COVID-19 figures continued to decrease in Eddy County and the vaccination rate picked up, Waters said Eddy County is moving forward with economic recovery.
According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Eddy County’s unemployment rate in April was 6.9 percent.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.