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New Mexico fines store where employee died from COVID-19

February 3, 2021 GMT
New Mexico state senators including Democratic Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Mimi Stewart, bottom left, both of Albuquerque, greet each other on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M., on the first day of a 60-day legislative session. Fences, roadblocks, police and troops encircled the building as a precaution against federal warnings about the potential for violence. Plexiglass partitions have been installed on the floor of the House and Senate to protect legislators from coronavirus infection, and the Capitol is closed to the public to blunt the contagion. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
New Mexico state senators including Democratic Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Mimi Stewart, bottom left, both of Albuquerque, greet each other on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M., on the first day of a 60-day legislative session. Fences, roadblocks, police and troops encircled the building as a precaution against federal warnings about the potential for violence. Plexiglass partitions have been installed on the floor of the House and Senate to protect legislators from coronavirus infection, and the Capitol is closed to the public to blunt the contagion. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
New Mexico state senators including Democratic Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Mimi Stewart, bottom left, both of Albuquerque, greet each other on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M., on the first day of a 60-day legislative session. Fences, roadblocks, police and troops encircled the building as a precaution against federal warnings about the potential for violence. Plexiglass partitions have been installed on the floor of the House and Senate to protect legislators from coronavirus infection, and the Capitol is closed to the public to blunt the contagion. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Workplace safety regulators are fining an auto parts store in southeastern New Mexico $243,000 amid accusations it allowed employees with coronavirus symptoms to continue working without properly screening them for possible infection.

The Environment Department on Tuesday announced the penalty against O’Reilly Auto Parts in Lovington, where employees showing symptoms were allowed to work and ultimately tested positive for the virus. Three workers tested positive, including a 46-year-old woman who later died.

Regulators say the store violated state law, emergency public health orders and internal policies for O’Reilly stores by failing to properly screen employees and not using proper cleaning and disinfection protocols.

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“Providing employees with a false sense of protection from COVID-19 by putting policies in place to comply with state law and then not following them is unconscionable,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said. “It’s possible this tragic situation could have been avoided.”

Store employees forwarded calls to a company representative, who had no immediate comment. The business has 15 days to file an administrative appeal.

Also Tuesday, state health officials reported 434 new COVID-19 infections, including a surge of cases in the Los Lunas area, and 15 related deaths.

Infection rates and daily deaths are tending downward in New Mexico, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of the rate of positive cases decreased over the past two weeks to 4.9% on Monday, from 9.5% on Jan. 18. Average daily deaths numbered about 20, down from 28.

An employee for the secretary of state’s office tested positive for the coronavirus at the state Capitol, the legal services office for the Legislature said.

Legislative Council Service Director Raùl Burciaga said there was no close contact between the infected person and any lawmaker or legislative staff.

The Statehouse is closed to the public amid on-site testing clinics to guard against outbreaks. There have been six positive virus tests there since Jan. 15.

Republican state Sen. Craig Brandt on Tuesday expressed frustration with vaccination rates in Sandoval County and Rio Rancho, where he lives, noting that a much greater share of Santa Fe County’s population has been vaccinated.

“Citizens of Sandoval County are concerned that their need for the vaccine is being disproportionately ignored,” he said in a letter to the state health secretary.