It seems to be the trend in New Mexico these days that the county sheriff gets to decide which health orders they feel are worthy of enforcing and which are not. Similar to the declaration made on the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Facebook page Thanksgiving weekend against the tyranny of government health orders, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales took to the internet to declare his disdain for the current COVID-19 public health order.
In a video posted on YouTube on Dec. 18, Gonzales said that politicians had turned “every day citizens into villains who are trying to live their lives.” He said he sympathizes with houses of worship, businesses and children who feel that their “civil liberties have been compromised.” Gonzales said he would direct his deputies to help keep the community safe and prosperous rather than enforce health laws that are “subverting citizens constitutional rights.” He went on to say that his agency’s focus will continue to be public safety, catching “actual criminals, and not harassing everyday citizens attempting to make a life for themselves and their families in Bernalillo County.”
In October Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that local law enforcement wasn’t doing enough to enforce public health orders, and that her office would continue to put pressure on law enforcement agencies to “enforce public health laws as they would seatbelt laws.” Thus far, no action has been taken by the governor in response to either sheriff’s department’s public declarations. She has said the tough measures have helped to reduce new infections. However, deaths and hospitalizations related to the pandemic remain high.
Still in effect is the state’s color-coded system for classifying counties based on the rate of spread and setting benchmarks they must meet in order to begin easing restrictions. All 33 counties are in the red high-risk category. Capacity for essential businesses, retail space and food and drink establishments will incrementally increase as counties move up to yellow and green tiers, but some municipal leaders have acknowledged it could be months before more populated areas such as Albuquerque see an improvement.
As the most populous county in New Mexico, Bernalillo County continues to have the highest numbers of new cases of COVID-19 every day.