Gallup, New Mexico Roads Close Due to COVID-19 Surge

Michelle Lujan Grisham


New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order closing all roads leading into Gallup, New Mexico at noon on May 1 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The executive order she issued orders all businesses closed from 5 p.m.- 8 a.m., limits vehicles to two passengers and discourages any non-essential travel.

In her executive order, Lujan Grisham cited New Mexico Department Health data, which showed a spike in cases and fatalities in McKinley County. Since April 17, the document noted, cases rose from 265 to 762 and the number of fatalities increased from three people 19. The most recent data from John Hopkins University as of May 1 shows there are now 1,027 cases in the county, representing about 30% of the state’s cases.

Here’s what you need to know:

Lujan Grisham Used the Riot Control Act

Governors don’t typically have the authority to issue such broad restictions, which is why Grisham invoked the Riot Control Act. New Mexico’s Riot Control Act allows the governor to temporarily declare a state of emergency in specific areas and prohibit certain actions within that area, such as sales, the use of streets or movement in or out of a city.

Although she described the measure as drastic, Lujan Grisham said the outbreak in Gallup was a “crisis of the highest order.”

A failure to comply with the order could result in a misdemeanor charge for first-time offenders and fourth-degree felony for repeat offenders.

The order will automatically expire in three days on May 4, unless Lujan Grisham renews it. She wrote in a press release that “more than 30 percent of the state’s total positive COVID-19 cases and the most positive cases in the entire state, outstripping even far more populous counties.”

Both the Outgoing and Incoming Mayors of Gallup Asked Lujan Grisham to Take Action

Outgoing Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney wrote Lujan Grisham a letter on April 30 urging immediate action.

“Only through the invocation of your authority under the Riot Control Act can our community impose the measures necessary to stem transmission of COVID-19,” McKinney wrote.

The incoming mayor, Louis Bonaguidi, echoed her words in his May 1 letter, where he also described the outbreak as “unprecedented” and stated that even the use of public streets would need to be restricted.

Bonaguidi narrowly beat McKinney by 41 votes on a runoff election held March 31.

“I recognize this request is unusual and constitutes a drastic measure, and the emergency powers set out under the Riot Control Act should be invoked sparingly,” said Mayor Jack McKinney in his letter. “However, the COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Gallup is a crisis of the highest order. Immediate action is necessary.”

Navaio Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie told the Navajo Times that he supported shutting Gallup down (the population of Gallup is more than 37% indigenous people).

“I am for it,” Yazzie said. “We still have not learned to stay at home and stay put. I keep hoping our people realize that this virus is serious.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told CNN he also supports the lockdown, saying, “We have many members of the Navajo Nation that reside in Gallup and many that travel in the area and their health and safety is always our top priority.”

Governor Has Eased Some Restrictions, But She’s Still Urging Caution

Just one day before issuing the road closures, Lujan Grisham had announced that although she was extending the stay-at-home deadline from May 1 to May 15, the state was in the Preparation Pase for a safe reopening.

The looser restrictions under the modified stay-at-home order meant that some parts of the state saw state parks reopen without camping or visitor centers, pet services and veterinarians start to operate, golf courses to open and firearm retailers be able to conduct background checks by appointment and deliver firearms purchased online.

However, restaurants and other dine-in food service providers are still only allowed to provide curbside or delivery and grocers and other essential retailers were asked to operate at 20% of their maximum occupancy.

The governor has also emphatically encouraged New Mexico residents to wear masks when they go out, in accordance with recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

McKinley County is a town of roughly 70,000 residents, and nearly 80% of the residents there were American Indian in 2018, according to Census Bureau data. Gallup has a population of roughly 20,000 residents and also an 80% minority population.

The entire state of New Mexico had 3,513 cases as of May 1, according to John Hopkins University data.

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