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New Mexico mayor urges businesses to reopen as cases rise

April 27, 2020 GMT
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Grants, New Mexico Mayor Martin "Modey" Hicks holds a warning issued by New Mexico State Police as the city-owned golf course in Grants continued to operate Monday, April 27, 2020, despite a public health order that shuttered nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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Grants, New Mexico Mayor Martin "Modey" Hicks holds a warning issued by New Mexico State Police as the city-owned golf course in Grants continued to operate Monday, April 27, 2020, despite a public health order that shuttered nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

GRANTS, N.M. (AP) — The mayor of a small New Mexico city and several dozen supporters rallied Monday as he encouraged business owners to defy a lockdown order by the governor that shuttered nonessential shops to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks vowed last week to allow all small businesses to reopen. The move came as some other rural communities across the country pressured their state and local officials to let them reopen amid rising unemployment and other economic turmoil.

In Grants, a western New Mexico town of around 9,000 residents, the mayor told protesters the time had come to end the shutdown despite warnings from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that it could put people at risk.

Hicks said only a fraction of New Mexico residents have been infected by the virus and it doesn’t make sense to keep small businesses closed.

“The governor is killing the state over a little bug,” Hicks said at the rally.

Health officials on Monday reported more than 2,800 cases of the virus in the state. More than 155 people are hospitalized and 104 have died. McKinley County, just to the west of Grants, is leading the state with the highest number of cases despite its small population.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Once a booming town connected to logging, Route 66 tourism and uranium mining, Grants took a big economic hit when the mines closed and many businesses shuttered.

Lujan Grisham has said the mayor’s plan makes “absolutely no sense whatsoever” and that State Police would enforce the closure order. However, there was no heightened police presence Monday.

State officials say officers will handle any complaints about businesses operating in violation of the order — as they have elsewhere — first with a warning and then subsequent citations that could carry fines between $100 and $5,000.

State Police have responded to 2,174 reported violations of the order statewide since March 24 while issuing 124 cease-and-desist orders and only four citations.

Grants store owner David W. Loeffler was letting only four people at a time into his family owned gun shop. He’s been open since the order first went into effect in late March. He has been warned once and is expecting to get a citation soon. He shrugged and questioned why other larger stores were allowed to remain open.

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Nearby, the marque of a thrift store read: “Go Rogue!” and the owners planned to open Tuesday. Some other business owners were watching to see how things play out while some said they were uncomfortable with the idea of reopening.

Cheryl Pynes, 68, owner of The Handbag Lady, decided to hold off on reopening because of concerns about the virus and its effects on older people. However, Pynes said the order should be reconsidered at some point and if it’s not, she may have to reopen anyway.

After thanking business owners around the community, the mayor said he planned to play golf. About 20 other people showed up at the city-owned course and played despite a warning by State Police for the facility to close.

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Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque, N.M.

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