Southwest Retailers Grapple With New COVID-19 Closures and Mandates

With U.S. COVID-19 cases climbing to 10 million on Monday, setting a grim new record high in the country for infections, parts of the United States are headed back into various stages of lockdown. The Southwestern U.S. has been especially hard-hit by the new wave, and retailers in several of the region’s major cities are being asked to shut down again to help curb the spread of the virus.

Many Texas cities have closed down nonessential businesses or are considering doing so. And with good reason: This morning, Texas became the first U.S. state with more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the AP. The pandemic has killed 19,337 people in the state since the arrival of the virus in March.

Retailers in Houston are bracing themselves for new lockdown mandates, which could close brick-and-mortar stores for an indeterminate period. Harris County, of which Houston is the county seat, has 29,686 active COVID-19 cases (it’s had 168,746 cases total) and has seen 2,319 deaths from the virus, according to the county’s public health agency

El Paso, Texas, which as of yesterday had over 27,000 active cases, shut down malls, hair salons, gyms, and other nonessential businesses in an order issued Oct. 30 that further requires citizens to wear masks inside all stores and other commercial buildings. The order is set to expire today, but may be extended. 

Mall developer Simon Property Group, which owns Cielo Vista Mall in the city, isn’t happy about the call—and its CEO, David Simon, told CNBC this week, “I think enclosed malls are being treated unfairly and inconsistently.… The level of inconsistency is very frustrating.” He added, “We have yet to see any evidence that our environment spreads anything.”

New Mexico currently has 57,547 active cases and has seen 1,144 COVID-related deaths. “This is the most severe emergency New Mexico has ever faced,” said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a statement. “If New Mexico’s COVID-19 spread continues to spiral out of control, our state hospital and health care infrastructure will not be able to support the unprecedented health care needs of sick and dying New Mexicans.… The state will be forced to hunker back down. The health and economic consequences caused by the continued out-of-control spread of the virus will be devastating.”

Struggling retailers in New Mexico have called on the National Retail Federation (NRF) to help them keep their brick-and-mortars open. And yesterday, the NRF filed a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act to release information related to new restrictions placed on retailers and restaurants. “Retailers across the state need and deserve a transparent process for re-opening and maintaining business operations,” said NRF chief administrative officer and general counsel Stephanie Martz in a prepared statement. “Furthermore, the state’s new measures burden rural communities by decreasing access to essential items if local businesses are ordered closed.” State and local agencies are required to respond to NRF’s records request within three days of receiving it.

Utah has recorded over 100,000 COVID cases in total, and infections have spiked in recent weeks: The state just had its worst week yet in the pandemic, culminating Sunday with 2,386 new daily cases and one more death, according to the Utah Department of Health (as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune).

Businesses there are still open for now, but the state passed new restrictions on Sunday, mandating that Utah’s retailers require their employees to wear masks at work, promote mask-wearing among their customers, enforce social distancing among their employees and customers, and refrain from hosting gatherings. Stores that flout the new restrictions could face fines up to $10,000. 

(Photo: Visit El Paso)

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JCK Magazine Editor