Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew like the one now in effect in El Paso could be on the horizon for Albuquerque if the city doesn’t get the coronavirus spread under control.
Keller and Dr. Mark DiMenna, a deputy director for the city’s Environmental Health Department, spoke Wednesday during a live teleconference about the increasing rate of virus transmission and actions the city is taking to try to reduce the spread and help local businesses survive.
“What we’re seeing in El Paso is what Albuquerque could look like in the next few weeks or months if we don’t get it under control,” Keller said. “Curfews could be on the horizon.”
DiMenna said Albuquerque is seeing new cases “increasing at a faster and faster rate.”
Last week the city had a 4.7 percent positivity rate. This week the city’s positivity rate went up to 8.7 percent, he said. The most current spread rate is 1.15, DiMenna said. The spread rate is the number of people each person with COVID-19 will, on average, spread the disease to.
“At the end of the summer we were under 1,” DiMenna said.
This week the city has 29.3 per 100,000 cases. Last week the city had 26.7 per 100,000 cases, DiMenna said.
Keller said the city began this past weekend an “enforcement blitz” and took around 1,500 enforcement actions on a “wide range of establishments.” He said big box retailers, open spaces and city parks were targeted. During the blitz, 302 notices and violations were issued and 7 citations were issued for large parties in homes. Various agency employees are issuing the enforcement and police officers are only called if people refuse to comply and the situation escalates, Keller said.
Keller said the public should report public health violations by calling 311 so the Albuquerque Police Department can stay focused on violent crime.
Enforcement officers handed out about 400 masks this past weekend, Keller said. He said the city has handed out over 4,500 masks to people deboarding at the Albuquerque airport during the month of October.
“We’re meeting them right off the plane with a mask,” Keller said.
The city will be adding the color yellow to its red/green enforcement report. That will begin “shortly,” Keller said and will be released to the media for the public to see what establishments in Albuquerque are in compliance with public health orders, who needed to be reminded of the public health orders but immediately took action and who flagrantly disobeyed public health orders or had to be shut down due to noncompliance.
“This is a way for us to have some transparency around enforcement,” Keller said.
He said the city will share the specific rules and regulations for the color coding on Thursday to encourage enforcement.
The city’s homeless shelter, the Westside Emergency Housing Center, reopened this past Sunday after an outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this month. Keller said this was critical because it was right before the recent winter storm hit the city.
The shelter has begun to utilize a second hotel to place people needing the shelter to help spread out the residents at the shelter further, according to Bobby Sisneros, planning manager for the city’s Department of Family and Community Services, told NM Political Report.
The city has been working to reduce the spread of the virus as the Westside Emergency Housing Center since the beginning of the pandemic and had been reportedly relatively successful until earlier this month. The shelter reported first an outbreak of 17 people who tested positive and then, shortly after, an outbreak of 72 people who tested positive with COVID-19.
Sisneros said the city continues to screen residents before they get on the bus that transports them to the shelter, located near the Double Eagle Airport, wash hands and wear masks. But with the use of the second hotel, the pods at the shelter stay less than half or half full and staff try to keep residents from sleeping on the top bunk to reduce the virus’ spread, he said.
The city is also providing meals currently at both the shelter and at the two hotels, Keller said. He said the city has never been able to do that before but is able to do so now because of help from the city’s partners and through donations.
Keller said Albuquerque has “lost a lot of ground,” as it used to be twice as good in its spread rate of the virus as every major city in neighboring states. While Albuquerque still has lower rates of spread than Phoenix, Tucson, Austin, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and El Paso, he noted that Denver now has a lower rate of spread than Albuquerque does. He also said that El Paso has a “major problem” and their rates of spread are almost three times higher than Albuquerque.
“I’m grateful to live in Albuquerque. It’s a healthier and safer place to live than all these other cities,” he said.
The city is making $10 million available in economic relief through the federal CARES Act. The window for those applications are ongoing this week, and will be available again the week of Nov. 9-13 and again Nov. 30-Dec. 11, Keller said. The funds will be available through a lottery basis and applications are available through the city’s website in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Applicants can also call 311 for more information.
The city is also spending $120 million all around the city on road construction. The city has waived $1 million in fees for small businesses, Keller said and added that “now is a great time to turn in all that paperwork with the city.”
The city has spent about $100,000 in support for outdoor seating at restaurants, food trucks and outdoor markets.