Amid another stunning if not frightening rise in COVID-19 cases — one that put New Mexico close to 3,000 cases in a single day — the Governor’s Office announced some big-box retailers such as Hobby Lobby and Ross Dress for Less will not be allowed to conduct sales in person beginning Thursday.

The furor over big boxes, which erupted earlier this week as the state began a two-week shutdown in hopes of blunting the coronavirus, was overshadowed Wednesday by a daily report that saw the state Department of Health announce 2,897 new cases, by far the highest one-day total in New Mexico since the pandemic started in March.

Wednesday’s number — 785 more than on a record-setting Tuesday — was accompanied by 26 more deaths. Santa Fe County had 197 new cases, far exceeding its previous high.

New Mexico’s daily virus case count has more than doubled in a single week.

Meanwhile, public health officials on Wednesday shut down Smith’s Food & Drug, 2308 Cerrillos Road, and Walmart Supercenter, 5701 Herrera Drive, for two weeks after the stores submitted at least four reports of positive COVID-19 results among employees within 14 days.

The stores joined the Target on Zafarano Road, which was shuttered Friday after a surge in employee infections. The earliest Target can reopen is Nov. 28. The Smith’s and Walmart will not be allowed to reopen until Dec. 2, according to the state Environment Department.

Walmart reported 16 combined COVID-19 infections among employees, with four each on Nov. 2, Nov. 7, Nov. 10 and Nov. 13. Smith’s reported seven combined cases on Nov. 3, Nov. 7, Nov. 9 and Nov. 12, according to letters the Health Department delivered to the stores.

Walmart Supercenter has filed seven reports with the state’s Rapid Response team since Sept. 19, and Smith’s has made nine reports since Aug. 6.

Five Walmart Supercenters are now closed across the state in Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Farmington and Albuquerque, where two stores are closed.

Overall, Santa Fe County had 53 reports from businesses Wednesday of an employee testing positive for the virus, the most yet for a single day.

The Governor’s Office clarified its public health order Thursday to note “large retailers that do not generate more than one-third of their revenue from … food and drink products may not operate in-person services.”

The order that went into effect Monday drew withering criticism from those in the business community who complained some big-box stores did not offer essential products or services and thus had an unfair advantage over small retailers.

The heightened restrictions come as retailers are gearing up for the holiday shopping season.

“The fourth quarter is so important to retail,” said Bryan Wachter, a spokesman for the New Mexico Retail Association. “We really hope the governor’s [amended orders] are as temporary as they can be.”

The association will do everything it can to make sure its retailers comply with the governor’s directives “because we want our workers to be safe and we want our customers to be safe,” Wachter said.

“But we are very concerned about what this means for businesses to keep their doors open and of course to provide that tax revenue that is so necessary to the state,” he added.

The amended order allows businesses to continue selling products online. Customers can have merchandise shipped to their home or pick it up themselves outside the store.

“Even if you aren’t listed in that essential category and you may not be open to the public, you have the ability to operate on a curbside basis,” Wachter said. “So customers can still come to the store, but they can’t come inside.”

Business editor Teya Vitu contributed to this report.

(12) comments

Pam Walker

What is essential to some apparently is not to others. Bike shops are opened but not a craft center. Oh yeah crafts are just a hobby. Not something that can ease boredom, calm or relax some and in all ways be a part of your life that calms the storm. I have never seen them crowded and they are always clean. No reason to close Hobby Lobby other than they are a God founded business and doesn't endorse our Gov.

Steven Clarke

Essential means "politically favored" .... In California, Wineries are open but bars are not, and it's just a coincidence that the Governor happens to own a Winery!!!

EVERY business is essential to someone, or else they wouldn't be in business. I don't drink, so every bar and liquor store and winery is "non-essential" to me ... but my hair DOES grow fast so Barbershops ARE Essential, to me. Meanwhile, for the bald guy who like beer, the Bar is essential and the barbershop is not.

IT'S totally unfair that the Governor just arbitarily chooses the businesses that are essential to her (because they are run by politically connected people who contribute to her campaign fund) and kills other business.

ESSENTIAL or NON-ESSENTIAL is NOT the right question. SAFE or UNSAFE is the question. If you can run your business SAFELY you should be open ... and if you CAN'T do it safely, you should be closed, regardless if it is "essential" in some politician's eyes. Tell us what is the definition of SAFE, and let businesses either meet or not meet those rules. I don't want UNSAFE restaurants or UNSAFE grocery stores or UNSAFE doctors offices ... and neither should the Governor.

BUT she doesn't care about SAFETY, she cares about POWER, POWER to close down what she doesn't care about.

Steven Clarke

So, what happens if the governor decides to close the Walmart in Espanola? Everyone from Espanola travels to Santa Fe's few stores ... bringing virus from one community to another community? People driving a hour or so from everywhere north of Espanola to Santa, waiting for an hour or more to get into the store, then traveling a hour back home?

So then she decides that she CAN'T close the Espanola Walmart for logistical reasons, but lets is stay open as a superspreader location?

Looks like what we REALLY need is a better stronger economy that can support a wider range of stores and options ....

Lee DiFiore

This change in health orders shows how completely incompetent the clowns running this show are, starting right at the top. These are the same idiots that dreamed up the "4 rapid response" rule that is the same for mom and pops as it is for businesses that employ hundreds. What's next grishy, closing all the grocery stores in Santa Fe?

Ramon David

Seems like stores with larger numbers of employees will be affected more by the 4 cases per workplace rule. Why don't they make it a percentage - ie if 5% of your employees are infected you shutdown for 2 weeks?

Jose Garcia

I think stores that supply food should not be closed more than a few days at most. 2 weeks is too long this will put a strain on the other food stores and lines will be longer food shortages greater..just spend a day cleaning the store And send employees who are infected home for the quarantine period and reopen. I agree stores like Ross and Hobby lobby Dillard’s etc are not really essential to the community.

Steven Clarke

SO you are ok with UNSAFE businesses being open? REALLY ... so we have can UNSAFE Doctors offices open because you think they are essential.

The criteria should be SAFE or UNSAFE .... the Governor should define what SAFE means and then let business either met or not met it. Having a SUPERSPREADER event at Walmart that is UNSAFE for whatever reason is STILL a problem ... and having people safely shop at Ross or Hobby Lobby is STILL NOT a problem.

Jose Garcia

I didn’t say Let it stay open I said they should spend a couple of days cleaning the store. Send the infected employees to quarantine . Test the employees the ones not positive let them work And safely reopen.. This shouldn’t take 2 weeks to be closed.. As far as doctors most doctors offices are doing tele appointments only anyways . I agree and business that is practice safety should be open this includes all business large box or small businesses. This Virus is hear to stay it’s not gonna magically go away for a while just like flu (Which kills over 650,000 people worldwide) and other viruses people will have to work with it in the future.

John Cook

Consider the very large numbers of people who shop for groceries at the WalMart Supercenter. I am no fan of WalMart. Period. However, this is a big problem for a lot of people. Can they cordon off the grocery section of the Supercenter and find enough employees who test negative to keep it open? We should consider this food problem for a lot of people in Santa Fe.

John Offersen

The Smiths on Cerrillos is not closed as of Thursday morning. I just shopped there.

Mike Johnson

Oh, wait, you mean someone in government finally read the "emergency health order" and saw how hypocritical and biased it was toward small businesses? Is there hope for government after all.......NAH!

Steve Spraitz

What above identified in the article it says food and drink products

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.