GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) McKinley County is currently one of the hardest-hit counties in New Mexico for coronavirus. Monday, county commissioners took drastic measures by limited the sale of hard liquor in convenience stores. The new ordinance states that McKinley County has a large homeless population. It said they buy liquor at convenience stores, then share their booze which is spreading the virus.
McKinley County is doing something no other county has, by limiting alcohol sales in response to COVID-19. “We are all writing history every day and making these tough decisions,” County Commissioner Bill Lee said.
Lee said under the new ordinance, convenience stores cannot sell alcohol at or above 15% alcohol content. The ordinance also limits sales to just one bottle of wine or one 12-pack of beer per person at a time. “We are looking at what is in the best interest of everybody versus the few,” Lee said. The ordinance stated this is due to the significant population of homeless people who purchase alcohol and share with others while not practicing social distancing.
“They pass around the whiskey bottle and pan handle,” State Sen. George Munoz of Gallup said. Munoz, who represents McKinley County, said this comes after what he calls an outbreak at the NCI Rehabilitation Center, where homeless people often stay. The center says that six of 22 people tested positive last week.
Munoz said there is no way to hold these people there, so they are released back on to the streets potentially exposing people in the public and at the center. “If they came into contact with a hundred people, they cough and sneeze,” Munoz said. “It is just a gym and that’s where they all hold them together.”
Lee said this ordinance is a step in the right direction but the county is still working with the state to find a place to hold the homeless who are COVID-19 positive. “We are making sure we can keep as many people as safe and secure as possible,” Lee said. “That is our top priority, and we are making decisions that take us in that direction.”
The ordinance also established a self-curfew, encouraging people to stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Las Vegas and Taos have also established curfews. Lee said county commissioners are going to meet again next week to assess the effectiveness of the ordinance. The ordinance does not apply to the city of Gallup. The city is considering an alcohol limitation of its own Tuesday.