SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Mayor Duckett seeks increased store capacity as new COVID-19 restrictions create long lines

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — With one of the major shopping locations in Farmington closed and the other places to buy groceries limited in capacity, lines are forming outside grocery stores.

This has Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett concerned, though he said he understands why the rules are in place. Nevertheless, he has reached out to the governor's office about increasing capacity for grocery stores.  

The Walmart on West Main Street is closed through Nov. 21 after reaching the state threshold for rapid responses to COVID-19 cases. At the same time, the current state public health order prevents essential businesses from having more than 75 people or 25% capacity, whichever is less, in the store at any given time.

Nate Duckett

Duckett highlighted that many of the businesses that have been forced to shut down after having four rapid responses are grocery stores or stores that get a large portion of their proceeds from selling food.

But people still need food and other supplies, which leads to increased demand at other nearby stores. Essential businesses like grocery stores and hardware stores have employees stationed at the entrances to limit the number of people in the store. 

"Walmart (on East Main Street) yesterday at noon time, (the line) wrapped around the sides of the building on both sides and across the alley," Duckett said when reached by phone on Nov. 19.

He said people are waiting in line for hours just to get water and Farmington serves as a shopping hub for 300,000 people.

"They show up here and we're going to force them to stand in line for hours for basic goods," he said. "I don't know if that's any safer."

Customers wait in line, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, at Smith's in Farmington. The line held 46 people shortly before 3 p.m.

More:San Juan County, Navajo COVID: What you should know now

On Nov. 18, Duckett sent an email to the governor's chief of staff about the limits and expressing concerns that the restrictions may make it harder for people to access food, water and other necessities. 

"Grocery stores are a whole different deal than a retail store that sells pants," he said.

In the email, he described the 75-person limit as an “arbitrary number” that is “unnecessarily low” and does not take into account that people come from all over the Four Corners region to Farmington to buy necessities like food and water and toiletries.

More:Ski Apache resort opening date delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Duckett knows that when people congregate the virus spreads.

“The more people in one area, like inside a store, the more people will be infected. This is the fact of the matter,” Sackett said.

She said the state would encourage Duckett and the grocery stores that are experiencing long lines to work together to “find ways to protect the New Mexicans who look to him for leadership in this time of extreme public health emergency.”

More:San Juan College closes multiple buildings through Nov. 30 amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Customers wait in line, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, outside of Smith's in Farmington.

Duckett said he understands that the state and the governor are trying to encourage people to remain at home and prevent the spread of the virus. Since March, the mayor has been encouraging mask wearing, washing hands and social distancing in messages to the community. But he has also been critical of measures that restrict the economy.

“There are places you have to go, and grocery stores are one of those places,” Duckett said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.