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New Mexico blocks roads into Gallup as coronavirus cases surge

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
A New Mexico Department of Transportation electronic sign near Gallup displays the phrase state and tribal officials have been saying to the public as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus in communities.

ALBUQUERQUE — The governor of New Mexico invoked the state’s Riot Control Act on Friday as she sealed off all roads to nonessential traffic in the city of Gallup to help control a surging coronavirus outbreak in the former trading post city on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also announced a ban on routine outings and required that businesses close from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the city of about 70,000 people along Interstate 40.

COVID-19 infection rates in Gallup and surrounding McKinley County make it one of the worst U.S. hotspots for the pandemic as patients overwhelm intensive care facilities.

More:Navajo infections surge as Trump prepares to visit southwest

Lujan Grisham said the virus has run amok in McKinley County and physical distancing is not being maintained among residents.

“A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this contagious, is a problem for our entire state,” she said.

State Police will assist local law enforcement and the National Guard will participate in a non-law enforcement capacity, the governor’s office said.

Federal health officials have linked the severity of the problem in Gallup to an early outbreak at a detox center that was followed by infections among homeless people. Complaints about people flouting social distancing and face-mask requirements at Gallup stores are widespread.

The city requested that the governor declare a state of emergency under the riot act that can prohibit people from walking streets and using certain roads.

Violations are punishable as misdemeanors on a first offense and as a felony on the second offense.

Gallup is a hub for basic household supplies and liquor sales for people living in remote stretches of the Navajo Nation and indigenous Zuni Pueblo. The Navajo Nation has imposed evening and weekend curfews on the reservation spanning portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

McKinley County has at least 1,027 confirmed cases of COVID-19, accounting for more than 30% of cases in New Mexico. It has far more infections than counties with major population centers such as Albuquerque, Rio Rancho or Las Cruces.

Checkpoints

The state transportation department has set up the following checkpoints at multiple points of entry into Gallup:

  • I-40 Exit 20 eastbound
  • I-40 Exit 20 westbound
  • I-40 Exit 22 eastbound
  • I-40 Exit 22 westbound
  • NM-118, milepost 25.7 westbound
  • NM-118 eastbound at Hampton Inn
  • NM-602 milepost 27.5 northbound
  • US-491 southbound @ South Chino Loop
  • Hassler Valley Road at the intersection north of I-40
  • Rehoboth Drive and Churchrock Street
  • Sanostee Drive @Sweetwater Place