On Wednesday, March 18, Mayor Tim Keller declared a Public Health Emergency and signed the “Declaration of Local State of Emergency Due to Novel Corona Virus COVID-19”. The ordinance gives the Mayor authority to close places of big gatherings and gives the Mayor power to close city facilities, relocate city staff and divert funding around to deal with a crisis. The mayor can invoke specific powers such as reallocating city resources to combat the epidemic and ordering the closure of streets, day cares and places of “mass assembly” like theaters and sports venues. Under the ordinance, the Mayor even has the authority to close streets.
For the last 7 months, Mayor Tim Keller has been conducting almost daily press briefings on the city’s efforts to deal with the corona virus and attempting to keep up with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s briefings on the state level. The corona virus pandemic has also allowed Mayor Keller to take his public relations efforts to even higher levels to deal with the pandemic and to announce city initiatives and inform the public. The best example of the new level of public relations is that Keller and his Department Directors conduct “virtual town hall” meetings. The town hall meetings are sophisticated telephone conference calls to thousands to provide to the public information and to answer the public’s questions regarding what the city is doing when it comes to the pandemic.
DRAMATIC SURGE IN CASES
As of October 22, there have been a total of 950 deaths and 38,715 cases reported statewide with 827 new infections with 20,332 reported recoveries and 1,039,372 negative tests. As of October 21, 202 people are hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19. According to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office, 80% of adult general hospital beds and 71% of adult intensive care unit beds are occupied in hospitals throughout the state. This includes those who are hospitalized for COVID-19 and other illnesses.
The City’s and the County’s case numbers are now soaring. On October 21, Albuquerque reported 292 new cases, one of its highest daily counts to date. Ryan Mast, director of the city’s Environmental Health Department, said last week’s infections totaled 1,185, compared with 589 the week before and said numbers are rising elsewhere around the country.
SURGE AT JAIL AND HOMELESS SHELTER
Bernalillo County’s latest surge has included outbreaks at the county jail. The Metropolitan Detention Center announced 48 new virus cases among inmates and two among staff, which puts the facility at 354 active cases among inmates and 49 infected staff members out of work.
Albuquerque’s Westside Homeless Shelter is also dealing with a very serious outbreak. According to the city, 125 residents and five staff members have been infected with COVID-19. The city has closed the homeless shelter to incoming people while current residents are tested and isolated.
CITY ANNOUNCES CRACKDOWN
On Wednesday, October 21, Mayor Tim Keller and City officials held a news conference to discuss plans to enforce the city’s emergency order after the city’s COVID-19 cases doubled in the last week. Keller announced that the city will be taking new steps to help control the spread of COVID-19 and will be working with the state and use other city staffers, including the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) to help with the enforcement. The city plans on conducting an enforcement blitz, focusing on different parts of the city based on zip codes.
With the dramatic increase in cases, the city wants to remind businesses, especially grocery stores, that they have to have special hours for senior citizens and people who are at high risk. The public health order requires retail stores and bars is to close by 10 p.m. Even though that’s an order from the state, the city will now help to enforce it. Keller added that restaurants could soon get a red sticker for not following COVID-safe practices, as well as restricting non-residents from city buildings.
During the October 21 press conference, Keller had this to say:
“We are going to be drastically ramping up enforcement … under the existing public health order. There’s nothing new here; we have just got to make sure we do a better job of actually following that public health order.”
KELLER GETS THE MESSAGE FROM GOVENOR MLG
Noncompliance of the public health order can result in a criminal citation. Violations of the public health order is a misdemeanor and the penalty is a $100 dollar fine and can escalate to six months in jail or both. Businesses can also receive a $5,000 fine if cited.
A KRQE News 13 investigative report found that the city has only issued four citations and none in the past few months despite the governor pushing for cities and local law enforcement to begin citing people for failing to wear masks, mass gatherings, and businesses breaking the rules.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has criticized the City’s enforcement action. Education, not punishment, has always been the main message for Mayor Keller. During the October 21 press conference, Keller defended the city’s response enforcing the public health order so far, calling it the best response in the state.
According to the city officials, since April it has have handed out 227 warnings. Since April, the city has responded to 19 occupancy issues but in October, the number rose to 32 with the increase likely caused by the weather impacting outside dining.
While the Governor is encouraging people to stay home, and have shut down state-run museums and historical sites, Keller said Albuquerque-run museums and the ABQ BioPark will remain open. He said they will continue to ensure COVID-safe practices will be implemented to keep everyone safe
ANNOUNCED ENFORCEMENT ACTION
Plans will be focusing on places people tend to go to and making sure businesses are following the occupancy rules. The city will be monitoring parks, ensuring there are no groups larger than five, and making sure people aren’t participating in sports that require a large group. The city is also considering restricting people from out of state from public buildings by requiring proof of residency.
Keller had this to say about the city’s enforcement action:
“We are working on, with our state partners, on a targeted enforcement blitz … Like any sort of blitz operation, like DWIs, we don’t want to share all those specific details, but we are going to let you know we are going to be drastically ramping up enforcement. Big box stores, and chains, chain restaurants especially, we’ve had a lot of complaints about load violation there. ”
Keller also reminded young people to avoid gathering in crowds or parties and said:
“We all remember high school and college, but this is an example of the kind of thing that’s happening in Albuquerque. These sort of COVID parties. This is a dangerous idea.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Since the very beginning, Keller has been emphasizing “educating the public” over “aggressive enforcement”. It obvious you can not force anyone to become educated.
The general public has a tendency to resist anything perceived as an infringement on their civil rights with many believing the corona virus is simply not a serious public health crisis.
We are not “turning the corner” when it comes to the pandemic but going around in circles thanks to Trump. Please, wear the damn mask. Your life and the life of others depends upon it. You have no constitutional rights or civil rights if you are dead. If you vote early and pass for any reason before election day, your vote still counts. Please vote for Joe Biden for President so we can have real leadership to defeat this damn pandemic.