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Locals speak against COVID lockdowns, other restrictions

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A group of about 70 people from around the area gathered Saturday afternoon at the Chaves County Courthouse to protest COVID-19 restrictions in New Mexico and elsewhere, as well as other government policies they consider to violate their freedoms.

The “Life, Liberty and Freedom” rally organized locally by several groups, including Concerned Citizens for New Mexico and Citizens for Life, was attended by people from Carlsbad, Ruidoso, Carrizozo, Capitan, Cloudcroft and Roswell.

One of the organizers, Jesse James Gomez of Roswell, said that similar rallies were occurring in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, as well as in other U.S. states and in foreign countries as part of “worldwide freedom day.” The rallies were scheduled to occur near the one-year anniversary of the first COVID lockdowns and the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington was one of the speakers. Others included church pastors and an anti-abortion rights leader, and event organizers said that business owners, health care representatives and educators also were expected to talk during the afternoon about their views on how the lockdowns have harmed people.

“I believe that it is important, one, to send a message that we are appreciative that things are opening back up,” said Herrington, “but, No. 2, we need more things opening. We need to get past all of this and go ahead and get things economically stable so we stop having people leaving New Mexico to go to Texas and also to keep businesses from closing down.”

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Chip Clemons of Dexter, a member of Concerned Citizens for New Mexico, said he thinks that COVID-19 is a serious disease, but not as harmful as first believed, so he considers continued restrictions unhelpful to some and harmful to youth kept from in-person schooling.

“We are trying to encourage the people of New Mexico to let the governor of New Mexico know their preferences,” he said. “We think it is time to reopen the state. What was supposed to be a two-week shutdown to flatten the curve turned into a year of lockdowns.”

New Mexico public health officials have instituted a four-tier county-level risk assessment method that correlates COVID infection spread in a county with restrictions on their business operations, school functions, crowd sizes and other activities. Chaves County has been allowed to return to in-person schooling as part of the Yellow Level risk category, and many types of its businesses are allowed to operate at some capacity.

Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of Human Services, said during an online conference Wednesday that New Mexico case counts remain too high, at an average of about 190 cases a day over a seven-day period as of March 11, to warrant changes in public health orders. He continued to advise New Mexicans to practice social distancing, use face coverings and wash their hands. He also said that those practices are recommended even for people who have received the COVID vaccine.

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