Covid-19

Canceled: Summer events, farmers market

Town officials consider alternatives

Posted

No Taos Plaza Live. No summer concerts. No Fourth of July pancake breakfast or Taos Farmers Market.

The town of Taos has canceled all music events and gatherings on town property for the summer, another casualty of a deadly coronavirus that has swept across New Mexico and around the world.

"All events including summer concert series, craft fairs, parades and other events by the town or those using town property such as the parks are canceled until further notice," town manager Rick Bellis said during a recent Facebook live event hosted by Holy Cross Medical Center.

Bellis further explained in an email that "no events by the town or held on town property" includes "parks, the plaza, alleys and streets." The policy will be reviewed every 30 days.

Bellis said though the situation could change, he anticipates "no events until at least Labor Day."

The town has played host recently to such big acts a Sting, Dwight Yoakam and Los Lobos. It had hinted at another big lineup for this summer.

Plans changed as the COVID-19 disease that started in China last year reached the United States in late February at a nursing home near Seattle, Washington. By early March, New Mexico had its first case. As of Wednesday (April 1) 363 people in the state, including 12 in Taos County, have been diagnosed with the illness. Six people have died from it in New Mexico.

Bellis and Mayor Dan Barrone made the decision to cancel the events. They had authority to make the decision under a declaration of health emergency approved by the town council in mid-March.

Bellis said canceling the events is part of the extensive efforts the town and others are making to rein in the spread of the virus. "We have projected that if everything went well here, statewide, nationally and internationally, we might be open again by Labor Day, but have shifted all of our marketing and air plans ahead to next winter," Bellis wrote in an email. "We are making what we believe to be realistic business decisions for the town."

Clamping down

Bellis urged people to keep children, including teens, at home. "Increasingly we are seeing they are just as vulnerable to this disease as everyone else," Bellis said during the Facebook live event.

"There will be no corona parties," said Bellis. "There will be no group celebrations in the park."

And if you wondered whether your movements are tracked - apparently, yes. According to Bellis, private companies that collect data and can track Taos County residents through their cellphones reported a 64 percent decrease in their movements, distance traveled and frequency of movement since a stay-at-home order was issued. "That earned the county an A+," Bellis said.

Social distancing and staying at home are two of the best ways - along with frequent hand-washing - to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, according to Centers for Disease Control. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an order in mid-March restricting gatherings to five or fewer people.

Farmers market

The town's decision was a big, and sudden, blow to local farmers.

Jennifer Helsel, the market manager, said they didn't know the town was going to cancel the summer market until they read a story about it in the Taos News. The market normally opens in mid-May and operates through October, every Saturday, on the historic Taos Plaza. The town has supported the market as a way to bring locals and visitors downtown.

Bellis concurred that he had not spoken to the market organizers beforehand. He said he knows the plaza has proven a great spot for the market. "The farmers love it there, the people love it there," he said via email Monday (March 30). "We are not opposed to the market, we just want to find a way to do it safer for this year than we are doing it now and have a lot of ideas on how that can be done and in a way that may solve some other complaints about the way it is now. We just haven't had a chance to talk with them about it, or they with us."

Market advocates and farmers were quick to weigh in with ideas on Facebook.

"Maybe a different or same location with curb-dropped sales," posted Derek Taylor. "We can work this out with them. We need food. A farmers market is just a group of self-attended grocery shops."

Leah Acosta noted in a post: "On their '(town) property,' key words. We need social distancing. But we also need food. More distance between booths. Prepackaged so no standing and waiting while things are handled again to be weighed. Prices posted are round numbers needing no calculations for change. One person goes - it's not a family outing this year."

Seeking alternatives

Bellis and Barrone said creative thinking is key to letting the market and other events move forward this summer, even if it is to virtual crowds or widely spaced customers.

"We will be having a conversation with The Paseo soon, as an example, about how can we do their event, but in a different way," Bellis said. "And I think we have some really cool ideas for that. We are looking at the idea of virtual concerts, virtual town halls. [But] people have to make decisions now about securing vendors, planting crops, hiring entertainment, etc. for each of these events or activities and our best estimate is that, if you are an event planner, anything before Labor Day is really, really risky from both the public health and business standpoint.

"Let's not be the place that does it like everyone else and struggles to get by, but let's be the place that invented a better, safer, more fun way for just one year that we can remember and tell kids about years from now," Bellis said in an email. "Maybe even the way everyone else wants to imitate and do it from now on. Let's be Taos.

"Let's turn an inconvenience into an opportunity."

Reduced town hours

The town of Taos and Taos County are limiting their hours of operation and limiting face-to-face interactions between staff and the public during the COVID-19 emergency.

All town office and services will be closed Fridays and new business hours of town hall will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays only. "All business should be done by email, or online through the town website or by phone or fax," said Bellis. "Again, both to minimize risk to our staff and to the public."

Residents who need to meet with town staff must first make an appointment. The public is only allowed to use the lobby at town hall for the time being and is no longer allowed access to the public restrooms at the location.

In addition, the town has altered the hours of operation for the landfill and recycling center. The recycling center will only be open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Taos Regional Landfill will be open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The Taos Youth and Family Center, Guadalupe Gym, Coronado Hall and the town council chambers and the public library will remain closed until further notice.

But town employees will get paid even as they work from home. "The town is committed to keeping all employees on payroll and with full benefits through this crisis," Bellis said

Bellis said the town is establishing a business assistance center to help companies impacted by the statewide shutdown "navigate red tape through this crisis and be ready to jump-start when it is time to reopen."

The town has put a temporary moratorium on utility and water shut-off for nonpayment until the COVID-19 crisis is over. The state Supreme Court also ruled recently that landlords could not pursue evictions for the time being.

Taos County restrictions

According to a press release issued by the county Saturday (March 28), county office hours also will be restricted. Beginning Monday (March 30), the county complex will be open only from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday thru Friday. A limited number of staff will be available to help customers and most will begin working from home to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"We strongly discourage operations in the county building if it is not of crucial priority," said a statement from the county. "If you absolutely need to handle business at the county complex, you will be directed to the front desk. Please mind the 6-foot distance barriers."

People will be questioned regarding any possible symptoms of the virus before being allowed to enter.

The public is asked to conduct business with the county by email or over the phone by calling (575) 737-6300.

Solid Waste and property tax bills should be paid via the website: taoscounty.org.

Taos County Sheriff's Office, fire and EMS personnel, Office of Emergency Management, Taos County Detention Center and Taos Central Dispatch will continue to operate during regular business hours as will Public Works, Fleet Department and Solid Waste Operations with minor exceptions, according to the statement from the county.

Taos Air suspended

Taos Air summer service also has been suspended for the time being.

In addition, on Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered that anyone who flies into New Mexico on any airline is asked to voluntarily shelter in place for 14 days after arriving. They "may be placed into mandated quarantine if required," according to a press release from the governor's office.

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