BY MAIRE O’NEILL
When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended the state’s emergency public health order last Wednesday through July 15 rather than easing restrictions, she also announced that the state will aggressively enforce the mandatory face-covering for people in public places.
The governor also declared that violators of the mask provision would be subject to a $100 fine and that retailers are required to ensure that people are wearing face covering before they enter store premises. She urged New Mexicans to avoid public gatherings which she said present an urgent risk to public health and represent a violation of the state public health order that is punishable by a monetary fine.
Questions quickly arose as to who would enforce the mask-wearing order and social distancing in public places, especially as the constitutionality of the governor’s public health orders has been challenged. On Monday, Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter to the governor stating that the issue has been litigated in federal and state courts and that it has been consistently found that the New Mexico Legislature has given the governor and the Secretary of Health broad authority to issue public health orders and emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Balderas said not wearing face covering is a petty misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100 or imprisonment in the county jail for a definite time not to exceed six months, or both, at the discretion of the court. His letter said that “any certified law enforcement officer in the state may enforce the face covering provision”.
The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to Los Alamos County officials to find out what enforcement will look like in the County. County Council chair Sara Scott said the County fully supports state public health directives and emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This includes the prohibition of mass gatherings, staying home unless necessary, and wearing face coverings and keeping six feet apart when out in public. These actions continue to be the best ways to minimize transmission and by following these, and other directives, each one of us can have an impact on the health and well-being of our community and have a real role in promoting the safe and expanded operations of our businesses. Small actions have made and will continue to make a big difference,” Scott said.
Mass gatherings are defined “as any public gathering, private gathering, organized event, ceremony, parade or other grouping that brings together five or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or open outdoor space”.
Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone said Monday that his officers will continue to respond to calls related to the state public health orders. He noted that LAPD can consider issuing citations as appropriate as indicated in recent direction from the governor’s and attorney general’s offices.
“The County looks forward to the community working together in a productive way to keep each other safe, continue to keep open and reopen our economy and support our businesses, and make it possible to safely open schools in the coming year,” Scott said.