GRANTS, N.M. (KRQE) – The governor has said the public health data is guiding her decisions on what to reopen and where, but some residents and local leaders in Cibola County believe keeping them under tighter restrictions, while most of the state is reopening, is retaliation.

“We’ve got high-risk activity in the northwest, and we’ve gotta do everything in our power to mitigate,” Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news conference earlier this month.

It is something we have heard many times since the coronavirus outbreak started in New Mexico. Department of Health data shows COVID-19 is hitting the northwest region much harder than the rest of the state.

When Gov. Lujan Grisham announced last week that New Mexico is allowing offices, churches and all retailers to open at limited capacity, that did not include everyone.

“This does not apply still to the northwestern region,” she explained.
McKinley, San Juan and Cibola Counties make up the region, but some Cibola County leaders do not think it is fair that they are getting lumped in with their neighbors.

“The numbers that we have in Cibola County, I still don’t think that they support the radical restrictions that we’re imposed with,” said Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace.

Roughly 1 in 259 people have gotten the coronavirus in Cibola County. That is compared with 1 in 90 in San Juan County and 1 in 37 in McKinley.

Sheriff Mace believes the governor’s decision comes down to politics, not numbers. “I do believe that it is in retaliation,” he said.

Three weeks ago, Grants Mayor Martin Hicks tried to reopen the city against the state’s public health order. New Mexico State Police even showed up to the city golf course and issued a cease and desist order.

Monday, the governor’s office told KRQE News 13 that the continued restrictions on Cibola County had nothing to do with local politicians.

“The decisions the state has made with regard to protecting New Mexicans from this virus have had nothing to do with local politicians and that will continue to be the case – the utmost priority is keeping New Mexicans safe. The northwestern region remains at great risk,” Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said in a statement.

They say that Cibola County is just part of the northwestern public health region and that Cibola’s more than 100 COVID-19 cases are a lot for a county with a sparse population. At last check, Cibola County had the third-most cases per capita in New Mexico.

While the rest of the state is now slowly reopening, the northwest region is still in the preparation phase.