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.