Home News COVID-19 Situation State relaxes rules for essential retailers

State relaxes rules for essential retailers

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Essential retail businesses are able to allow more people into their locations at one time, as the state released an amended public health order Wednesday intended to reduce lines outside stores while still requiring physical distancing.

“Our priority is ensuring physical distancing in high-traffic areas, like stores that people must frequent to meet essential needs,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in an announcement about the orders taking effect Wednesday and due to expire Jan. 13.

“With colder weather here, we want to ensure that people aren’t gathering in lines for an unsafe length of time, especially in communities where there are fewer retail options for essential needs,” she said.

For the local Walmart store, where people during the Thanksgiving weekend reported waiting for hours to get in, the number of people now allowed in the store is 1,018, according to a sign posted on the door. The previous state order allowed a maximum of 75 people.

A small line was still seen Wednesday outside Target, but representatives of that store, as well as Home Depot, which also has seen lines in recent weeks, referred questions to their national media representatives. Calls to the media numbers were not immediately answered.

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A local business representative said the changes were welcome news for the community.

“The amended public health order is great news for Roswell and Chaves County,” said Andrea Moore, board chair and acting executive director of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce. “I am happy to hear that our community will no longer have to wait outside in long lines, and I hope this is just one step closer to opening our local businesses.”

The amended rules set the occupancy levels allowed for businesses and organizations depending on the risk level of the county in which they are located, as determined by COVID-19 positivity rates and per capita daily cases. The three tier risk-level system — medium risk, or Green Level; high risk, or Yellow Level; and very high risk, or Red Level — took effect Dec. 2.

Chaves County remains in the red zone, the status for all 33 counties in New Mexico as of Wednesday, when the risk criteria data was updated for the the two-week period of Dec. 1 to Dec. 14.

Chaves County numbers have improved somewhat. Its positivity rate is now 21.4%. The average number of daily cases per 100,000 population during the recent two-week period is now 121.2. For the prior two-week period, the county had a 25.4% positivity rate and an average daily new case rate of 174.7 per 100,000 people.

For red-zone counties, essential retail businesses such as grocery stores, convenience stores, auto repair shops and laundromats can operate at 25% capacity. Previously, essential retail operations could operate at 25% capacity or a maximum of 75 people, whichever number was lower. The same rule applies to houses of worship, outdoor recreational facilities, outdoor food and dining areas, and close-contact businesses such as salons.

The 75 person maximum or 25% rule is still in effect for non-essential businesses.

Places of lodging in red-zone counties can operate at 40% capacity if they have completed the New Mexico Safe certification or at 25% occupancy if not. State museums and close-contact recreational businesses remain closed.

Mass gatherings also remain restricted to five or fewer people, while mass gatherings in vehicles are limited to 10 or fewer vehicles.

Essential non-retail businesses can operate, but are required to limit their operations to essential functions only.

The state announcement encouraged essential retail operations to offer dedicated hours for senior citizens or others considered to be at high-risk of severe complications if infected with COVID-19.

The state also reminded New Mexico residents that they are still expected to stay home as much as possible and comply with other public health orders.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.