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Gallupian views on health order changes

Changes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most recent emergency public health order will loosen the reins on eateries and houses of worship.

Food and drink establishments will be allowed to provide indoor dining service at 25 percent of maximum occupancy in accordance with COVID-Safe Practices.

When Railway Café owner Katie Conn learned that inside dining would once again be permitted, she was excited. Until she found out eateries could only use 25 percent of maximum occupancy.

“Twenty-five percent — What’s the point? … At 50 percent we have nine tables, so hello,” she continued. “We were expecting 50 … Well, I guess we’re going to have to [open], but that’s not really much of a gain.”

Conn said it would probably cost her to open up inside, because she would have to have more people to take care of to-go orders in addition to serving customers indoors.

She expects to put three picnic tables with umbrellas outside and set up four or five tables inside.

At Camille’s Sidewalk Café, James Rich, was  upbeat.

“We’re excited, however we are proceeding to slowly open safely,” Rich said. “We were complying before the crisis hit, as well. Wearing gloves, washing and sanitizing hands has always been a part of what we do.”

Rich explained that with restaurants in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and on the Navajo Nation, each layer of oversight requires different levels of compliance that must be followed.

The 25 percent of maximum occupancy for indoor dining in New Mexico did not disturb Rich. It was just something more to navigate.

He pointed out that for Camille’s, one state is allowing 50 percent occupancy (Colorado) and another state is currently at zero (Arizona, where the Navajo Nation restaurants are located).

Rich said he would absolutely open the Camille’s in Gallup to 25 percent occupancy.

Even though his restaurants have been doing delivery and carry-out and tending their drive-thru windows throughout the months of the pandemic, Rich said a lot of business was lost over the summer.

That summer business helps carry the restaurants through the cooler months, he explained. But this year things could be different.

“I’m very worried about ourselves (sic) and my industry friends [as we work] to survive through the winter,” he said.

CHANGES AT HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Under the new public health order New Mexico houses of worship will be permitted to increase from 25 to 40 percent of maximum occupancy indoors in accordance with COVID-Safe Practices.

That news is thrilling to the people at The Door Christian Fellowship Church in Gallup.

Pastor Jonathan Heimberg gave the following statement.

“I appreciate the caution our leaders have shown in the face of this pandemic, and I believe the common-sense guidelines implemented in New Mexico were more sensible than in some places around the country,” he said. “…We’re looking forward to being able to help our city in a greater way through our worship service, One80 concert ministry, and addiction recovery programs.”

For the Diocese of Gallup, the response to the change will be on a case by case basis.

Suzanne Hammons, diocese director of communications pointed out that at least half the parishes are on tribal lands. Some of them are still on lockdown and the Navajo Nation will follow the guidance of tribal authorities.

Parishes in Arizona will follow the guidance of the Arizona governor.

Hammons told the Gallup Sun Aug. 26 that the Diocese of Gallup will probably leave decisions about inside occupancy increasing to 40 percent to the individual pastors’ discretion.

“It depends. It’ll be our chancellor’s call, along with the bishop,” she said, as she pointed out that Chancellor Randolph Copeland was an officer with the Air Force and worked at the Gallup Indian Medical Center as an orthopedic surgeon.

She said those skills along with his good eye for organization will help him guide Bishop James Wall, who will make all the final decisions.

“Catholics traditionally attend mass once a week on Sundays,” she said. “But a bishop has the authority to lift that obligation.

“Catholics in our entire diocese have not had the obligation to go to mass since the pandemic started,” Hammons continued. “And I don’t anticipate that that obligation will come back for a while, especially since many of our parishes and missions are still on tribal land.”

Hammons said if someone is elderly or has a pre-existing condition, or lives with someone who has such a condition, they will be encouraged to stay home.

The view from the First Baptist Church is different. Pastor Jay McCollum thinks the media has created a scare mentality among people.

While McCollum said it’s important to follow CDC guidelines, he also said, “There is a very dark undercurrent trying to destroy our nation, our economy, but certainly the Christian church.”

“We’ve got to move forward in our economy,” he said. “I think you need to start back to school. I think you need to have fall sports.

“It will probably take us a year to recover where we were in Feb. 2020, even if we find a cure for it [COVID-19].

“We’re missing hugs,” he said. “The contact with friends, family members … that part is really hurting human beings.”

From a civic perspective, Bill Lee, McKinley County commissioner for Dist. 3 sees the governor’s announcement as encouraging.

“What we’ve heard over the past several weeks [from this administration] … has been confusing,” Lee said.

“The governor has time and time again set goals. We have met them or exceeded them, but she didn’t make any changes … I see this as a positive step in getting our small businesses back open,” he told the Sun Aug. 26.

Lee recalled the story of a man who said his family and his business were his whole life.

In not taking action to reopen our economy, Lee said, “We’re destroying people’s lives and the quality of the lives of people who work for them.”

“It’s [the reopening] a long overdue step and the beginning of good things to come,” he concluded.

The new order takes effect Aug. 29 and continues through Sept. 18.

By Beth Blakeman
Associate Editor

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