Elephant Butte State Park welcomes out-of-state visitors despite quarantine rule

Coronavirus New Mexico

 ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – State law enforcement was seen ignoring the governor’s order, waving out-of-state visitors right into Elephant Butte Lake State Park on Friday, instead of enforcing the new quarantine law.

People with out-of-state plates said they weren’t turned away at the gate or asked if they quarantined for two weeks before going to celebrate the holiday at the lake.

News 13 spotted about 30 out-of-state cars, trucks and RVs, mostly from Texas, paying their entrance fee at the main gate and then getting waved right in by park rangers. When the State Park Divisions was asked about that, it said, in part, that it’s relying on people to educate themselves about the state health order by checking the state parks website where it’s posted.

After further inquiries, the division said it’s now ramping up efforts to inform people about the rules, but couldn’t say if that meant park rangers or state police will start turning away out-of-state visitors.

“We encourage everyone to comply with the current health order to protect our vulnerable populations,” State Parks said in an emailed statement. “While we hope that individuals will comply with the health orders out of respect for others and a desire to protect public health, violators could face citations and fines for not complying voluntarily.”

New Mexicans at the lake seemed split when asked if they’re bothered by people coming from out-of-state and the lack of enforcement of the state’s health order.

“They’re coming from the surrounding states where it’s very bad,” Rob Vigil of Albuquerque said.

“It doesn’t matter. If you’re going to get the virus, you’re going to get it from here or not,” Julian Tafoya of Los Lunas added.

Many people were not wearing masks. Of course, they’re not required to while in the water, eating or drinking. State parks posted a sign at the main entrance asking people to wear them, but News 13 didn’t see any enforcement. State police said they are still waiting to get direction about how to approach people from out-of-state about the quarantine rule.

News 13 asked the governor’s office for a response to state law enforcement letting out-of-state travelers break the law by ignoring the quarantine order. A spokesperson said they instructed state parks employees to turn away out-of-staters or tell them to quarantine.

The following is the full statement from the governor’s office: “Of course the governor’s office has communicated that to the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources. It goes without saying. To repeat: the state will enforce. There is a process. The order was just implemented. People are going to violate it and put public health and life at risk, like the person you talked to. That’s happened every day of the pandemic. We will continue to do our best. 

“Enforcement is not easy. No one will pretend that it is. No one will pretend anything about this pandemic and keeping New Mexicans healthy and alive is easy. The only tool we have to begin with is to make the requirement and set the expectation and proceed from there. As the governor discussed this week, obviously as a state we do not have the resources to force every person who enters the state to self-isolate for 14 days like other countries, but that is because of the negligent lack of a federal response to this pandemic and states having to pick up the slack however best they can.​”

State Parks said staff is monitoring the 25% capacity limit, which is about 2,000 cars.

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