New Mexico blocks all roads into Gallup, a 'frightful' hot spot where virus runs 'amok'

"The virus is running amok there," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said of McKinley County. "It must be stopped, and stricter measures are necessary."
Image: Gallup New Mexico
Signs inside the Walmart to advise shoppers that non-essential items aren't available for purchase in Gallup, N.M., on May 1, 2020.Patrick Sandoval / AP

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By Nicole Acevedo

New Mexico blocked roads into the city of Gallup, with the state's governor saying tougher measures were needed in a county where "the virus is running amok."

The state police and the New Mexico National Guard have put a stop to traffic on all roads into Gallup, which borders the Navajo Nation, where at least 44 people have died of coronavirus. The American Indian territory has the the third-highest infection rate in the country behind the states of New York and New Jersey.

The spread of this virus in McKinley County is frightful,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham upon issuing the order Friday under New Mexico's Riot Control Act. “It shows that physical distancing has not occurred and is not occurring."

"The virus is running amok there," she said. "It must be stopped, and stricter measures are necessary. A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this dangerous and this contagious, is a problem for our entire state."

All businesses in the city of about 22,000 are restricted to operating only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., under the governor's order.

Some business owners in Gallup said they were surprised by the move.

"It's a little bit shocking because you're not ready, the people or the businesses," Germaine Garcia, co-owner of a Mexican restaurant in Gallup, told NBC afficiliate KOB in Albuquerque. "I don't disagree with the lockdown; I just wish we had a little bit more warning."

The lockdown order came in response to an emergency request from Gallup Mayor Louis Bonaguidi.

“I recognize this request is unusual and constitutes a drastic measure, and the emergency powers set out under the Riot Control Act should be invoked sparingly,” said Bonaguidi in a statement. “However, the COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Gallup is a crisis of the highest order. Immediate action is necessary.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement he supports "the proactive measures implemented by Governor Lujan Grisham, at the request of the City of Gallup,” adding that many members of the Navajo Nation live in Gallup "and their health and safety is always our top priority."

The Navajo Nation has a separate 57-hour weekend curfew starting at 8 p.m., Reuters reported.

McKinley County accounts for about 30 percent of New Mexico's total of 3,513 confirmed cases of coronavirus. At least 131 people have died of coronavirus in the state.

State Sen. George Muñoz said the lockdown will remain in place for three days but can be extended. He said officials "will assess each day afterwards until the spread of the virus is reducing."

The governor eased stay-at-home orders across the state on Friday with the exception of McKinley County along with neighboring San Juan and Cibola counties due to the spread of the virus in those areas.