Medical staff and city council members encouraged Mayor Ken Miyagishima to proclaim an emergency during a meeting of the City Council on Monday as some Las Crucens continue to mingle in large groups despite warnings against such behavior.
The council gave Miyagishima emergency powers at a March 27 meeting but he has yet to use them because he didn’t want to make the situation urgent and cause panic among community members, he said during Monday’s meeting conducted online.
But Councilor Gabriel Vasquez, District 3, citing people who are still seen out in public in large groups, at parks and at businesses, asked health care professionals sitting in on the online meeting whether they thought it was time for the mayor to take emergency action to limit the size of groups.
“As an infection preventionist, I’m going to say yes,” said Twyla Anderson, the infection preventionist from Memorial Medical Center, a local hospital, said. “Unfortunately we would like the public to take recommendations and follow through, but I think we’ve seen behavior, you’ve seen behavior, that they just don’t take it seriously enough. They don’t think they’re going to get sick, they’re young and they’re bored and they want to be outside.”
Caryn Iverson, chief nursing officer at the hospital, agreed “100%,” saying “…it’s getting warmer outside and people want to go picnicking, you start seeing big family groups at the levee having their picnics and we saw some of that this weekend… so I totally agree this is something we need to do now.”
Vasquez said a misdemeanor citation might be what it takes to get people to stop gathering in large groups and urged the Mayor to take action.
Anderson said the number of cases in the area is low, but the preventative strategies are still important to stop spread. The New Mexico Department of Health has yet to confirm community spread of the virus in Las Cruces, she said, which means the 18 positive cases in Doña Ana County are likely travel related.
But Cullen Combs, emergency manager of the Office of Emergency Management in Doña Ana County, said “all the concerns that have been expressed about people not following the precautions outlined is how community spread will happen.”
Miyagishima suggested he wanted to pass a proclamation before the weekend to support the state department of health’s March 24 order limiting public gatherings to no more than five people. “But if we can piggyback off the state and be able to utilize them and [the Las Cruces Police Department],” Miyagishima said, then the state can handle the situation if there is non-compliance with the order.
This would allow more enforcement power at the local level, he said. He added he is hoping for the directive to run for up to 14 days, concurrently with the state directive.
Councilor Yvonne Flores said she thought the mayor should go one step further and institute a curfew for the city. Miyagishima said he didn’t think the city was at that point and said he was concerned with the possibility of people getting “unfairly pulled over” by police reinforcing the curfew.
The city council adjourned with plans to solidify options for relief funding for those financially impacted by the closure of businesses in the city. The council will meet again virtually April 3 at 9:30 a.m. An agenda for Friday’s meeting was released Tuesday morning, listing a resolution to allow the council to amend the budget for this fiscal year. Funds would be taken from the Telshor Fund and allocated for emergency assistance.