County talks about possible ways to respond
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include reaction from local officials to the store closures.
Two Roswell food stores have been temporarily closed by the state due to recent COVID-19 cases, and county officials have criticized the actions, saying they could cause mass hysteria as well as more stress and overcrowding at other stores.
Albertsons Market at 1110 S. Main St. and Sam’s Club at 4400 N. Main St. received 14-day closure notices from the New Mexico Department of Health on Wednesday afternoon. They will be allowed to reopen Dec. 2.
Rapid Responses lead to closures
Acting Secretary of Health Billy Jimenez sent a letter to both companies indicating that the stores are to remain closed for two weeks because they had four or more Rapid Responses within 14 days due to reporting of COVID-19 cases at their sites.
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Pharmacies, optometry clinics or other health care related operations within the store can continue to function if they are able to do so while otherwise complying with state orders, Jimenez’s letter stated.
Albertsons Market had five Rapid Responses from Nov. 4 to Nov. 14, according to the state, with six COVID-19 positive tests reported.
Sam’s Club had four Rapid Responses from Nov. 3 until Nov. 14, with eight COVID-19 positive tests.
An Albertsons spokesperson said the company expresses its concerns for the employees who tested positive.
“At the direction of the state, we have closed the Roswell store until further notice. We are in close contact with state officials and will cooperate with them as we work to reopen the store,” said Nancy Sharp. “The pharmacy will be open on a limited basis for prescription pick-up or delivery.”
She said pharmacy customers could call for service and also noted that the Albertsons store on West Second Street remains open.
Calls and emails to Sam’s Club were not answered by press time, but an email sent to customers Wednesday explained the closure until the morning of Dec. 2 and stated that the pharmacy would be providing curbside service to customers who called.
Rapid Responses are when Environment Department personnel work with businesses or other organizations that report COVID-19 cases at their sites. State officials typically require isolation and quarantining of affected employees, contact tracing and cleaning and sanitizing of facilities.
On Oct. 22, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus infections in New Mexico, the state began to require the temporary closures of some businesses having four or more Rapid Responses within a two-week period. Under amended orders, those businesses are described as ones frequently visited by the public and which fall within certain industry categories. Those include food and drink establishments, lodging businesses, retail stores or essential businesses, excluding health care operations, media services and utilities.
The state also can decide to allow businesses with four or more Rapid Responses to remain open if the goods and services provided at that location are determined to be essential to their communities.
County officials plan possible action
County Manager Stanton Riggs said that he had talked with Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb about what actions could be taken at the local level to express disagreement with the actions.
He, as well as a few commissioners and Sheriff Mike Herrington said food store closures were causing panicked calls, worries about adequate food supplies and concerns for the businesses that are losing not just revenues, but also food inventories.
“It makes no sense to close grocery stores,” Riggs said. “It forces people to congregate at one grocery store and that makes no sense. The panic is real. I got a ton of calls last night. I talked to the chairman last night. I know you all got calls last night. It is scary and it makes no sense.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.