Big-box stores increasingly charting on state’s COVID-19 Watchlist

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Now more than two weeks into an effort to warn the public about virus hot spots and assess potential temporary business closures to stop the spread of COVID-19, some of New Mexico’s most popular retailers and grocers are showing up on the state’s Rapid Response Watchlist. As of Monday morning, more than 150 businesses were listed on the watchlist with 16 of them having four or more COVID cases in the last 14 days.

Some of the most prevalent businesses on the list include more than a dozen Walmart retailers and grocery stores across New Mexico. According to the New Mexico Environment Department’s rules, four or more Rapid Responses at businesses on the watchlist can subject them to a possible two-week closure.

The state has so far closed down eight of the 16 businesses with four or more Rapid Responses. However, the state says each shutdown is still on a case-by-case basis.

“For something like a Walmart or a grocery store, or an essential business, we’re going to be looking at is it a sole provider of goods and services in a community,” said Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department. “We don’t want to cut off a rural New Mexico community from essential services.

NMED says the New Mexico Department of Health also helps decide if businesses with four or more Rapid Responses in two weeks should be closed down temporarily. NMED says some businesses with four rapid responses that haven’t been temporarily closed might still be operating because the state hasn’t had time yet to process their possible shutdown.

One of two Farmington Walmart’s will remain closed through this week because it has at least six cases. By contrast, two Albuquerque Walmart stores have met the threshold four or more cases in two weeks, but haven’t been shutdown. Those include the Walmart at Coors and Rio Bravo and another location at Wyoming and Menual.

With hundreds of employees at each Walmart store, those stores should see more Rapid Responses compared to smaller businesses like fast-food restaurants. For example, the Whataburger on Menual near Second Street has a fraction of Walmart’s employees but also had at least three COVID cases in the last two weeks.

KRQE News 13 asked the Environment Department if it takes employee headcount into consideration when responding to the COVID-19 Rapid Response Watchlist. The NMED says total employee headcount isn’t a factor in if the state chooses to temporarily close a business for COVID-spread.

“We want this to be equitable across all businesses, and so that four applies to all businesses,” Hayden said. “Regardless of the number of employees, four positive cases in the workplace has the potential to result in workplace spread, so and that’s what we’re trying to mitigate here.”

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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