The City Council mulled over the New Mexico Municipal League’s suggested plan for opening up the economy, which is close to what the Governor is likely to propose after her current executive order expires May 15, according to City Councilman Mike Williams.
Mayor Pro-Tem Kim Skinner and City Councilman Travis Atwell said they agreed with the plan.
The statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission, according to the New Mexico Municipal League’s Reopening Plan, as of April 30, was 1.24, or, on average, every new case will create one and one-quarter new cases.
The NMML plan states the transmission rate should drop to 1.15 by mid-May, assuming current social distancing remains steady.
The NMML plan recommends the state not open until the transmission rate is 1.15 and the state reaches a testing capacity of 3,000 tests a day. The NMML does not explain why 3,000 tests a day are adequate “to box in” the virus, that is, to identify and quarantine people with the virus to stop it spreading.
The NMML recommends test results be turned around within 24 hours and contract tracing of those who have crossed paths with those found to be infected be determined within 36 hours.
The plan is vague, stating it is “rec.” to quarantine, or, supposedly, recommended to quarantine those Health contact-traced people for 14 days.
According to a May 4 press release from the Department of Public Health Information Officer David Morgan, the State testing capacity is “10,000 tests a week” or about 1,400 tests a day.
Tests are free, if you are without insurance, but still limited to symptomatic people, asymptomatic people in contact with those who have tested positive, asymptomatic nursing home residents and other “congregant” residents, such as those living in homeless shelters and group homes.
The State’s hospital capacity for “general beds,” “ICU beds,” and “ventilators,” are all three deemed “sufficient” by the NMML, “based on modeling,” the plan states.
There is a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, estimated to be a 28-day supply by mid-May.
The NMML plan contemplates phased openings. The first phase, starting May 15, has a “gating criteria,” of the 1.15 infection rate, to be calculated for each of the five “Public Health” districts in the State. If the area cannot meet the criteria, then further opening of businesses may be delayed.
Sierra County’s Public-Health district includes Catron, Socorro, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Dona Ana and Otero counties.
Safety practices for businesses include six-foot distances, closing common areas, cleaning surfaces, wearing face masks, washing hands, using hand sanitizer. Employees should be screened daily, “verbally or with a written form or text/app,” supposedly self-certifying they feel fine.
“Best practices” for business employees is to take their temperature daily with a no-contact thermometer, sending them home if it is over 100.4 degrees.
Retail stores would open at 20-percent capacity and other non-essential businesses at 50-percent capacity after May 15, if the infection rate drops and the testing and tracing capacity increases.
Restaurants and bars may open up to 50 percent capacity, but the plan for these businesses is still being worked out. No bar stool service or standing service will be allowed.
Hotels will probably be allowed to open at full capacity.
Gyms and salons will open, following safe practices as well as they can.
Churches will be allowed to open, but capacity is still being determined.
Theaters, casinos and nursing-home visits will remain closed. Mass gatherings won’t happen. Any out-of-state airplane arrivals must quarantine for 14 days. Vacation rentals for out-of-state visitors won’t be allowed.
These restrictions will be in place for two to three weeks before loosening them are considered.
Mayor Edna Trager said she spoke with some of Elephant Butte’s restaurateurs and some said opening at a 50-percent capacity doesn’t allow them to break even.
The City’s restaurant is on the line too—Trager asked City Attorney Benjamin Young if the city-owned Sierra del Rio Golf Course restaurant has its liquor license—a key component in reopening May 16.
The City signed a contract with Spirit Golf to manage the restaurant, golf course and pro shop, which includes use of the City’s liquor license. Young said Spirit Golf’s license use is still tied up in Santa Fe, and recommended the City Council have “a conversation with Spirit Golf,” to renegotiate parts of the deal. Takeover has been delayed because of the pandemic.
The other variable for opening up restaurants is customers, Trager said, which all depends on the Lake opening to ensure that food, “with a limited shelf life,” gets consumed in a timely manner.
“It the Lake doesn’t open, it will be devastating to our economy,” Atwell said, with other City Councilors agreeing.
Skinner said the Governor is not opening the Lake because she “enacted a seasonal-worker hiring freeze at Elephant Butte Lake State Park when oil and gas prices dropped.”
People are being hired, Skinner said, but it requires going through the GPE or Government Point of Entry procurement process. In addition, public bathrooms need to be closed and replaced with port-o-potties, Skinner said, and the State is still “trying to establish occupancy” for the whole park.
Trager said the communication with the Governor’s office has been one way, although “we’ve been asking for dialogue. We can’t get answers on just about anything,” she said.
City Attorney Young was asked if the City Council should approve the NMML plan as a resolution. Young said he examined the Truth or Consequences resolution, which is trumped by the Governor’s executive order, which is acknowledged in the resolution, making it nearly pointless.
“The prudent thing to do is to stand back and follow the Governor’s process,” Young said.
According to City Councilman Michael Williams, the Governor is asking for feedback from cities, not in the form of a resolution, but a letter.
Trager asked the City Council if they had anything else it wanted in the letter to the Governor, besides opening the Lake.
Williams said, “If the Governor refutes our request to open up the Lake, suggest that we open it up to Sierra County. It is in our county. That would control the numbers.”
Trager said some people are saying the Governor and State Parks have no say-so in part of the Lake. She has received a number of communications indicating the southern part of the Lake, “south of the Butte,” is federal Bureau of Reclamation area, not State Park area, and is therefore open to the public.
Some claim the whole Lake is BOR property, Trager said, “but a number of people have been ticketed for substantial amounts, in the hundreds of dollars,” who have tried boating in the northern part of the Lake.