|McKinley County in red, Cibola|
County in blue (Wikipedia map)
"The disparate reactions from two mayors within the same region of a single state reflect America’s ever-widening gulf in the struggle against the coronavirus," Robert Klemko and Griff Witte report
for The Washington Post
. "As the country attempts to navigate its way out of a pandemic without slipping into full economic depression, every state, city and county leader is making his or her own determinations about how to weigh the threats."
In Gallup, a McKinley County town of over 21,000 near the Arizona state line, new mayor Louie Bonaguidi requested—and received—lockdown orders last week from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But just south in Cibola County in the town of Grants, pop. 9,182, Mayor Martin "Modey" Hicks encouraged local businesses to defy statewide stay-at-home orders, Klemko and Witte report.
The towns, which are about an hour's drive apart on historic Route 66, have fundamental differences that may have informed the mayors' decisions. McKinley County has seen at least 1,274 covid-19 infections, about 30 percent of the state's total. But Cibola County has only had 74 confirmed cases. That's likely because McKinley County, and Gallup, have a much higher share of Native Americans than Cibola County and Grants, Klemko and Witte report. The pandemic has devastated nearby Native American reservations, especially the Navajo, with many communities trying to fight the disease without running water.
Gallup is prosperous, relying on shoppers from the five reservations surrounding the town to come shop on the weekends. But Grant, a former uranium mining town, was having a hard time economically even before the pandemic. "The main street is occupied by abandoned motels and storefronts, active automotive shops and the shuttered Uranium Diner," Klemko and Witte report.
The state is issuing fines to non-essential businesses that open in Grants, but not everyone in the town thinks it's a good idea to open businesses. Thomas Whelan, chief executive of Gibola General Hospital, told the Post that even a few very sick covid-19 patients could overwhelm the hospital's intensive care capacity. A local brewery owner told the Post that he wouldn't feel right about reopening since it could hurt some of his customers.