CHAVES COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Despite having some of the highest COVID rates in the state, people in Chaves County, including sheriff’s deputies, still gathered in-person Friday for a Christmas toy drive. Instead of enforcing the health order, the sheriff said people should live their lives the way they want to. The sheriff said if people are sick, they should stay home. If not, and they do not want to mask up, the sheriff said they shouldn’t have to.

The Chaves County Sheriff’s Office is under fire for a video taken Friday that shows maskless deputies, plus Sheriff Mike Herrington dressed as Santa at a holiday toy drive. There were only a handful of face coverings in sight in the crowd. Herrington said his deputies only wear masks if businesses of community members request them to do so. “One of the things I want to tell people is, we as Chaves County Sheriff’s Department are being safe,” Herrington said. “Today, I am dressed as Santa Claus. If you don’t want to come up to me, you don’t have to. You can maintain safe social distancing of six feet.”

Herrington said the business that posted the video, Luna’s Snacks, did not ask them to mask up. Some people commented on the store’s Facebook post asking where the social distancing and masks were. Luna’s replied saying in part that they believe customers are entitled to do as they please.

“We were relying on local law enforcement,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said regarding enforcement back in October. “They frankly aren’t enforcing or helping us. They made it very clear that they weren’t interested in doing that even though they will give you a ticket for using your cell phone or not having your seatbelt.”

The governor has repeatedly asked law enforcement to enforce the public health order throughout the pandemic. Herrington said he isn’t going to. “I believe as a person, you have the right to make a choice on whether or not you want to wear a mask,” Herrington said. “I leave it up to the individual to do that. We are not enforcing the mask mandate in any way.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to the governor’s office for comment on Friday’s toy drive but did not receive a response. While Chaves County’s COVID rate did go down in the past two weeks, they still remain among the highest counties in the state for average daily cases and test positivity. They reported 44 new COVID cases Friday.

COVID-19 News in New Mexico