Farmington, San Juan County officials said 'no thanks' to offer of regional coronavirus lockdown
AZTEC — As Gallup prepared to lock down earlier this month in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Farmington and San Juan County leaders declined an offer from the governor's office to implement a similar lockdown.
The news of area officials declining an offer to implement the Riot Control Act like Gallup was shared in a San Juan County Sheriff's Office Facebook post by Sheriff Shane Ferrari on May 14.
Gallup Mayor Louis Bonaguidi and former mayor Jackie McKinney requested Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham declare a state of emergency to contain the transmission of the coronavirus, according to The Daily Times archives.
McKinley County has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico with 1,730, with San Juan County now trailing with 1,237, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
San Juan County has the highest number of deaths from the coronavirus with 81, and McKinley has the second-highest with 63, as of May 14.
A lockdown 'wouldn't be legal'
San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said a person from the governor’s office reached out to local leaders around the time the Riot Control Act was enacted for Gallup.
Enacting the Riot Control Act would have led to roadblocks and curfews.
“I wouldn’t consider it and the mayor wouldn’t consider it,” Fortner said.
At the same time, Fortner said he does not believe a lockdown is what San Juan County wants or needs.
He said in his legal opinion the conditions in San Juan County do not warrant the governor declaring a state of emergency. He said that would require the healthcare providers to be overburdened by the coronavirus.
“Even if we wanted to (lock down), it wouldn’t be legal,” Fortner said.
He said the conditions in Gallup may have warranted the lockdown.
Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett was also involved in the discussions about implementing the Riot Control Act.
He said Farmington is an important commerce hub for people who may not have access to food or potable water.
Duckett said locking down the city and preventing people access to those supplies is against what he stands for.
“You don’t turn your back on people,” he said.
Mayor: People need to do their part
In addition, Duckett said he does not know how much locking down Farmington would prevent the spread of the virus or save lives.
He highlighted that the majority of the deaths in San Juan County have occurred in congregate living facilities in Farmington, a figure confirmed by the governor's office.
But Duckett also said people need to do their part to keep the community safe.
These measures include social distancing and washing hands. The state is now mandating people wear face masks in public to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Fortner said people need to practice social distancing and stay safe.
New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson reached out to Ferrari near the beginning of the month to see if they needed additional state police support as Gallup went into lockdown.
Ferrari said he appreciated — but declined — the offer of additional state police units, adding they could handle the increase of traffic.
The sheriff wanted to make it clear to the community that the Sheriff's Office and area law enforcement cannot enforce a state public health order and that only the state Department of Public Safety can enforce them, citing state statute.
Ferrari stated he has to enforce county and municipal ordinances passed in his jurisdiction, along with state law.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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