LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- After more than two hours of heated debate from Doña Ana County Commissioners and the public's email input, commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to require face masks in Doña Ana County as a public health measure to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The ordinance, which goes into effect as soon as it's signed by the county clerk, requires that all county residents wear a face covering or mask in ALL public areas in Doña Ana County.
- Individual outdoor exercise (ex: walking or jogging). However, if someone is interacting with a group of people in a public place, like a park, it is required.
- Children of two years of age and younger
- Patients in examination rooms, dental offices, hospitals, clinics where "it is necessary to examine or treat the mouth or nasal area"
- When wearing a mask "poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, such as anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance."
Commissioners Lynn Ellins, Manuel Sanchez and Shannon Reynolds voted in favor of the ordinance.
"We take this seriously," said Sanchez, who proposed the ordinance. "We're showing constituents that we're leading."
Commissioners Ramon Gonzalez and Isabella Solis voted against the ordinance.
"We're just being overbearing as commissioners to make an ordinance that people wear these masks," said Solis. "I think we need to allow people the liberty. If they want to wear it, fine. If they don't want to wear it, it's up to them."
The county attorney also read dozens of emails of public input, with the vast majority of those strongly opposing the requirement.
The Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office has the ability to enforce a fine of up to $300, but Sanchez said the exact amount would be up to the sheriff's deputies when they issue citations.
While she is in favor of masks, Sheriff Kim Stewart did not want commissioners to pass the ordinance for fear of her deputies' safety.
"We have to be the bridge here," said Sheriff Stewart. "We can't be making the arroyo deeper. I do not want us to be a flash point for one person looking for a fight."
Undersheriff Jaime Quezada told ABC-7 that deputies will not pull over county residents to enforce the mask requirement in a vehicle.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima confirmed that masks are still strongly recommended in the city of Las Cruces, but not mandatory. However, he said council will vote on a face mask requirement on June 15th.