Serving the High Plains

Governor's order creates local ripple effect

The governor’s stay-at-home order and skyrocketing coronavirus cases continued to create ripple effects in Quay County with closed schools, city offices and businesses, plus at least one cease-and-desist order of a business owner that tried to stay open.

Tucumcari Public Schools superintendent Aaron McKinney announced in a news release Saturday the district would switch entirely to remote learning starting Monday because of the “unfortunate” rise of COVID-19 cases in Quay County. The district announced the previous day it would go to all-remote learning Nov. 30.

McKinney said in a phone interview Monday that two cases in two weeks at the district, including one announced Saturday, prompted him to go to all-remote learning. He said four cases in two weeks would have led to a shutdown of in-person classes in the district until the county went back into the green zone with its coronavirus caseload, and he didn’t want to risk more.

“I figure those two extra days off (during Thanksgiving week) would make a big difference,” he said.

Tucumcari and Logan had been using a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes for its elementary students since the beginning of the school year. Middle-school and high-school students have been taking their courses entirely online.

San Jon Municipal Schools had scheduled a special board meeting Monday night to discuss future remote or hybrid learning options.

House Municipal Schools, a micro-district like San Jon that could offer some in-person classes in small groups, went to online learning only earlier this month until Nov. 30 after two employees tested positive for the virus.

Quay County Clerk Ellen White stated in a social-media post the county courthouse would be closed Monday through Friday because of a COVID-19 exposure there, though a confirmed case has not been confirmed.

The city of Tucumcari has shut down City Hall, Tucumcari Public Library, Tucumcari Historical Museum and its brush and tree-trimming disposal area at Coronado Park in response to the pandemic, city manager Mark Martinez said during a commission meeting Thursday.

Viral spread

Quay County continued saw its rate of coronavirus cases rise sharply in November. The New Mexico Department of Health had recorded 92 cases in the county — including 15 on Saturday — from Nov. 1 to Nov. 22.

Quay County also recorded 100 cases from Oct. 20 to Nov. 21 — more than half the total since the pandemic began in the spring.

Seven entities in Quay County reported confirmed cases among employees during the past week. More than 20 referrals in Quay County from the state’s COVID-19 rapid-response database have been recorded in November alone.

The intensive-care unit at Plains Regional Medical Center in neighboring Curry County reported Sunday it was at maximum capacity — many of them COVID-19 patients — and the Clovis hospital would stop elective cases to free up nurses and bed space there.

The rest of the state and neighboring Texas, including Amarillo, also were seeing unprecedented rates of the disease.

New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase said during a briefing Thursday the state’s seven-day average of cases was more than 1,300 — far above the gating criteria of 168.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during the briefing that New Mexico saw its last 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in just seven days. The state’s first 10,000 cases were amassed in more than three months. She also said the state had reported 200 deaths in 14 days.

Shutdown ordered

Meanwhile, Gar Engman said New Mexico State Police served him a cease-and-desist order Thursday morning for operating his TeePee Curios shop in Tucumcari.

The officer radioed for backup when Engman called his lawyer on the phone for advice after being served with the order, Engman said in a telephone interview Friday.

Engman said he closed his business shortly after his lawyer told him he should comply with the state police’s order.

Engman said he disagrees with Lujan Grisham’s definition of non-essential businesses in the stay-at-home order that went into effect Nov. 16. Though the TeePee offers snacks, the order states retailers “that do not generate more than one-third of their revenue from ... food and drink products may not operate in-person services.”

Engman said he wears a mask and offers hand sanitizer. He said those things, along with the TeePee’s low volume of customer traffic during the tourism off-season, makes his business low-risk to him and his customers.

“Open nine hours a day, I get maybe 20 people,” he said. “But those 20 people spend money and make me enough for me to get by. Twenty people — that’s two people per hour wearing masks and social distancing. Two people at a time in the store, I don’t see that as an emergency situation.

“The virus is real. Yes, it’s here. Yes, it’s present. But shutting down everything … no, that’s not going to do it.”

Restaurants in Quay County continued to operate by offering curbside service or delivery. The amended heath order forbids outdoor dining it allowed earlier this year, though increasingly colder weather would make that prospect more difficult.

One restaurant closed temporarily. Mama T’s Road to Ruin in Logan announced on social media Friday it would be shuttered from Sunday through Nov. 30.

“… We feel like this is the best solution to be able to provide you the best service possible,” the post stated. “The closing is so our staff can enjoy a week with family during the holiday and because of the Governors orders.”

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