The local store of a national prescription eyeglass manufacturer and retailer plans to reopen Monday after a temporary closure.
The store has had at least one employee test positive for COVID-19, and the state is investigating a complaint arising from the situation.
Managers for the Eyemart Express at 4511 N. Main St. near the Roswell Mall made the decision Tuesday to close at 1 p.m., said District Manager Derrick Bullard. The store is expected to reopen Monday.
Bullard said that the decision was due to the fact that most Roswell employees chose not to return to work this week and that it was “just too much” for him and another out-of-district employee to handle the workload by themselves.
He said an optometrist who operates independently but in an adjacent location might decide to continue seeing patients. A sign on the doctor’s door Thursday noted that people will be seen by appointment and will be met outside the office.
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Bullard said that the store is safe for employees and customers.
“It has been completely sanitized, and it is completely safe,” Bullard said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”
Typically the store operates with about six to eight employees during operating hours, he said.
A letter dated Tuesday to the store from a representative of the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department indicates that some unnamed party filed a complaint over concerns about possible “health hazards” at the store.
A lawyer for Eyemart Express, Jason Shanks, responded the following day to the bureau, stating that the “operations at the location during the period in question were in compliance with applicable federal and New Mexico law.”
The lawyer’s letter indicates that the company is aware of one employee’s positive test, information received July 5. But that employee had not been in the store since June 27, Shanks stated.
On July 6, the store was professionally sanitized, according to the letter.
But the state bureau said the complaint it received alleges that an employee also tested positive on July 7 and worked that day, with no additional quarantines or sanitizing occurring afterward. The complaint also alleges that employees and managers came to work from out of state without adhering to the 14-day quarantine regulations in state public health orders.
In his response, Shanks stated no employee worked July 7 who was diagnosed with COVID-19, but that the store was informed on July 9 of another employee who had tested positive. Local employees were not exposed, the letter said, because they did not return to work after that. Two members of the company’s field management team, including the district manager, were brought in from other states.
The company also made the decision to close temporarily, the lawyer wrote in his letter, and will resanitize the store before reopening on Monday. The letter also said that most of the employees have been tested for COVID-19 now.
In response to the complaints about the lack of a two-week quarantine by employees and managers from out of state, the lawyer said that no state health orders have been violated for a few reasons.
One reason given is that executive orders allow travel by car, which was the means used by one of the out-of-state workers. Another is that the company said that “optometric providers and ophthalmic device suppliers” are defined as essential health providers in a May 19 document of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identifying “essential critical infrastructure workers.” A third reason given was that New Mexico executive orders allow interstate travel for business purposes.
The company’s response letter also listed many other measures the store and its employees had implemented to guard against COVID-19 infections among employees and customers.
A New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson indicated Thursday morning that the state investigation is ongoing.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.