Mountainair mayor frustrated over county-by-county framework

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The mayor of a small New Mexico town is frustrated with the state’s county-by-county red to green framework. He claims his town hasn’t had a positive COVID-19 case in a month and is paying the price because of the rest of the county. 

Mayor Peter Nieto of Mountainair said he doesn’t think the county-by-county framework should be eliminated since the state is already months into it. However, he believes there should be some tweaks to the system, like allowing a small percentage of indoor dining back open. “My hope is that the state would adjust the red level to include dine-in restaurants in that level,” said Nieto.  

Mayor Nieto of the small town in Torrance County claims they haven’t had a positive COVID-19 case in about a month. However, Torrance County is still considered under the red level with a test positivity rate of just above 5%.

Recently the mayor posted a long message on his Facebook account detailing his frustrations saying small towns are losing out on business to big cities that have a lot of COVID-19 cases. Of course the state uses averages, not raw totals.


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KRQE spoke with Ruben Sisneros, the owner of Mustang Diner in town which is one of only three restaurants in Mountainair. The owner agrees with the mayor and believes locals are hopping county lines to go dine elsewhere.  

“They’re all open and it’s just very hard to compete with that because we lose a lot of our customers due to that, they all go to the city and stuff and go to indoor dining and we’re sitting here stuck struggling to try and make ends meet,” said Sisneros. 

Mayor Nieto said luckily none of the restaurants have closed down permanently. He is worried if they stay under the red that could be a possibility. On Wednesday, February 24, the state will once again reveal the new results of the county-by-county system.  

Below is the governor’s office email response to Mayor Nieto’s frustrations:  

“We all wish the pandemic was over and that there was no longer any need for COVID-19 policies, but as you know, and as I’m sure the mayor knows, that is unfortunately not the case. New Mexicans continue to contract and die from this terrible virus every day, and as long as that is the situation we find ourselves in, policies that protect the health and safety of New Mexicans remain necessary. The state’s priority must be and continues to be the health and safety of all New Mexicans, which is why the county-by-county framework is in place, ensuring that counties are able to operate with fewer policies in place as they successfully mitigate the spread of the virus in their communities. As the mayor himself mentions, the state moved from a statewide evaluation system to the county-based evaluation system in order to give local communities more flexibility and to more accurately reflect the progress they make in their fight against COVID-19. New Mexico is a state with many rural communities that see a great deal of travel between communities, which increases the risk of virus transmission and must be taken into account when considering COVID-19 policies. It is so encouraging that Mountainair is successfully working together to keep their community safe and mitigate the spread of the virus and we look forward to that success hopefully being reflected across the county.”

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