Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller showcased a homemade mask in a video briefing on Monday afternoon, April 6, about the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He said their Environmental Health Department has reached out to over 150 nursing facilities to give infection control guidance and remind them of public health orders like halting group activities and dining. KUNM spoke with Mayor Keller over the weekend about other ways the city is working to support residents through the crisis.
MAYOR TIM KELLER: Number one, we're trying to keep everyone healthy. Number two, we want to make sure that the safety net is there as best we can for our most vulnerable residents.
KUNM: The city has announced a $50,000 fund for motel vouchers for those who are in need of housing. How does that work and who qualifies for it?
KELLER: Basically, if someone's been exposed to corona[virus] and they're homeless, for example, we’ll put them up in a motel for several weeks or until they recover. Going forward, we're looking at doing this for also like first responders [and] public health workers. That's much better than the shelter options.
KUNM: If the stay-at-home order is extended, how is the city prepared to add more money to that fund?
KELLER: We know that we're going to rely heavily on the federal government stimulus package to fund most of our emergency operations. So, as long as that continues to happen, we'll be okay. But the city coffers are drying up fast because we depend on sales tax. And so, when businesses aren't operating, we will run out of funding ourselves in a couple of months. But again, we're hoping to have some backstops from federal and state government.
KUNM: The state Supreme Court issued a momentary stay on evictions. Is the city making plans to assist people with rent?
KELLER: We, right away, announced that we are not doing evictions during the time of corona[virus] - at least at city run facilities that we control - and we're very grateful that the Supreme Court also made that the law the land statewide. The city has propped up a rental assistance fund. We were able to put in about $40,000, and about half of that has been used so far. So, there are still funds available. You can call 311 or you can go to one of our four emergency public health centers.
KUNM: The CDC has recommended everyone wear masks now to aid in flattening the curve. Will the city be helping and providing masks to those in need?
KELLER: We're really encouraging people right now to make their own. Now, for city employees and first responders, what we're working on is the shortage of the medical N95 masks, and then we're supplying lesser medically qualified masks to frontline city workers in other areas. But for the common public right now, the best thing you can do is make your own.
KUNM: Some businesses are remaining open despite not falling under the essential business qualification. Is the city going to shut them down? And if so, what is the timeline?
KELLER: The state is handling all enforcement of the state orders. However, if there is any mass gathering, the city is stepping in just to break those up. Also, flagrant businesses, we warn them first through our planning department, then the fire marshal, then APD will just shut them down. Just because you put candy bars on the counter doesn't mean you're a grocery store. So, there is a definition of that, it's 50% of your operating square footage has to be for food. This isn't a game, this is serious, and so we will shut you down.
KUNM: Is there a plan to convert someplace like the Albuquerque Convention Center into an emergency medical center, and who will be involved, if so?
KELLER: We are right now in the planning process of utilizing the east side of the convention center for an emergency facility. That could be if the Army, for example, and the Department of Health decided they need a second facility, because they're already putting one up at the old Lovelace [hospital]. This is a backup plan for that. We also might need to use it just as a third space for public health workers, first responders, who can't really go home but also can't go to work. We may also use some of our larger community centers around town for that
KUNM: A lot of businesses are going to be struggling. Are there any ideas being generated in your administration to help?
KELLER: We established a microbusiness fund. This is for our small businesses under five people, and we will just give you five grand just to keep you afloat. We did a half-million dollars – that's 100 businesses – and over 1,000 applied. So, we know the need is huge. We're trying to find some other emergency funding we could use for this. The other thing we're looking at is we're trying to keep construction going. We moved up $70 million worth of construction projects into the next three months. As long as the public health standards are met, we're going to try and keep the economy going that way. Individually: look, shop local, get a lot of takeout, buy gift cards… all of this is a couple of Google searches away.
KUNM's Nash Jones contributed to this story.
Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, and the New Mexico Local News Fund.