As the State of New Mexico gradually pushes forward with COVID-safe protocol regarding the partial opening of many businesses, the City of Socorro is continuing to comply with self-imposed mandates.
On April 13 Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker enacted a mandatory mask rule within city limits for all employees still working at essential businesses as well as all patrons of those businesses.
Bhasker stated in that letter, which was posted both to the City website and distributed physically to area merchants: “Following our declaration of an emergency announced April 6, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am requiring all retail store personnel and customers to utilize face masks or face coverings when entering a business in the City of Socorro. I need store managers to make it mandatory for all employees to have a face covering at all times and customers should not be allowed to enter a business without a face cover.”
Bhasker said Socorro has responded well to the mandate.
“99.9 percent of the people cooperated. I see now some other cities are thinking about it, but we did it back on April 13,” he said.
Socorro was the first municipality in New Mexico to establish mandatory mask guidelines. Bhasker said that was due in part to his medical background.
“I could see there was a spike going on in the county. At that time I think we had maybe 20 positives, and it was rising pretty fast,” he said. “We only had one in the city. I knew that in Alamo there was a spike going on because of two people who had gotten it. I felt it was important to go ahead and use emergency powers and at least do something.”
Bhasker said in the weeks preceding the action to require masks, he spoke with Socorro's two busiest retailers in John Brooks and Wal-Mart about how they were handling crowd control.
“At that time really nobody was doing anything. They were making an attempt at it, but not really a serious attempt,” Bhasker said.
Just 10 days after the City's initial actions to require personal protective equipment, Bhasker issued an open letter to local business owners pertaining to their re-opening. The letter read: “As the Mayor of the City of Socorro, I would like to get Socorro open for business. In that regard, the City is asking for your help in obtaining this goal. In order for the City to authorize the opening of a business, we would like your cooperation to help us keep your business, employees and patrons safe.”
The City requested business owners fill out a short form to be considered for opening, which would then be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis by the City. Bhasker said thus far 30 to 40 local businesses have already turned in those forms, but his administration won't supersede the state government.
However, much like individuals in Socorro have embraced protective masks, hand-washing and social distancing, Bhasker said businesses have as well. Between himself, city manager Donald Monette, Assistant Police Chiefs Angel Garcia and Bruce Greenwood, Fire Chief Joe Gonzales and Socorro Police Chief Mike Winders have collectively visited around 40 businesses in the area, he said.
“We have talked to them. They're so on board it's unbelievable,” Bhasker said. “Everybody is on board and said their customers are on board. They desperately want to open and we've done the footwork with them. We've gone to each of these places three, four and five times trying to build a relationship with them. It's not a punitive thing. It's unbelievable how well they're organizing. They want to get open.”
And Bhasker agreed the measure to require PPE in many establishments places may have made the public come to understand how serious COVID is.
“The mask helps, but it also gives you kind of a trigger to keep in mind there is COVID-19 out there. So then you do the other things,” he said. “You clean your hands. You space yourself. I used to complain about seat belts when I was 22 years old. Now if I don't put my seat belt on I feel very uncomfortable.”