The coronavirus disfigured Gallup, a small New Mexico town near Indian reservations that is now one of the hardest hit places in the country.
The spread of the virus has revitalized the local economy, which over the years has grown around tourism, railroad and heavy industry.
Shop owners, residents and helpers are now trying to figure out how they can do it.
Hospitals in Gallup are almost full. Most of the stores are empty. The unemployment rate in the county where the city is located is one and a half times the national average. Earlier this month, according to a New York Times database, the United States had the highest number of cases per capita in any subway area.
With the pandemic marching steadily across the country for the past few months, places like Gallup have been hardest hit.
According to census data, nearly half of Gallup’s residents are between the Navajo Nation in the north and the Zuni Nation in the south.
Native American communities were particularly vulnerable to the virus, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all cases in New Mexico at one point, although these communities make up less than a tenth of the state’s population. And some who have so far been spared the virus are still affected by the fallout from the economic slowdown.
Eric-Paul Riege, a 26 year old artist, is the son of a veteran hotel manager and a Navajo mother who taught him the art of weaving. His work has been published in galleries and collections across the country. But paid projects almost dried up this year.
When I was Mr.. . Riege, he worked shifts at a diner called Grandpa’s Grill, processing orders for take-away groceries.
Route 66 goes through Gallup. The city has relied on tourism to fuel its economy and has relied on visitors to shop and sell trading posts in local galleries that sell Native American arts and crafts. But the limits of activity in the region made that difficult.
When the region saw an extreme wave of virus cases in May, the city was on lockdown and state police and the National Guard barricaded highway exits to prevent people who did not live in Gallup from entering the city unless it was an emergency.
Last month, long after the barricades fell, trading posts were open but closed for indoor purchases, reducing the chances of anyone coming by to stop and browse.
The legendary El Rancho Hotel, which once housed John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn and other Hollywood stars, was about a quarter full.
Gallup is in many ways a relic of conquered indigenous lands and American expansion. For example, many of the trading posts are owned and operated by whites. These little stores are overshadowed by McDonald’s, Walmart, and other large American franchises, where cars and people often end up in parking lots now.
Bill Lee, the head of Gallup’s Chamber of Commerce, said the economic gap has widened due to restrictions imposed by local and state officials. Smaller businesses often have to adhere to stricter guidelines, including rules that prevent in-store shopping, while larger stores, especially those deemed essential, can operate with fewer restrictions. « The governor picked winners and losers, » said Mr.. . Lee told me.
When the barricades were erected earlier this year, Walmart was inundated with shoppers stocking up on weeks of supplies, especially as there are few grocery stores in indigenous lands. However, the barricades also had the effect of preventing members of Indian groups from coming into town to shop.
Even before the pandemic, the Indian health service approved the government program that provides health care for the 2nd. 2 million members of the country’s tribal communities suffered from a shortage of doctors and aging facilities, a significant shortage of funding and supplies.
During Thanksgiving Week, Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, the main hospital for Gallup, was inundated with virus cases.
Heather Willie, a Navajo woman, had to be quarantined at a nearby hotel after testing positive for the virus.
At the hospital, Zola Sandoval, a 63-year-old Navajo woman who was being treated for the virus, took off her mask and said to me in a hoarse voice, “Tell people the virus is real. ”
Amid the devastation of the pandemic, some people have got lucky. Dan Bonaguidi, the son of the town’s mayor who owns Michelle’s Ready Mix Rock and Recycle with his wife Michele, is one of them. Its business flourished as government grants resulted in greater demand for building materials for home renovations and projects such as new or expanded healthcare facilities during the pandemic.
But even with Lichtblicke there are many more stories of companies that are empty or closed – small and large.
After an oil and natural gas boom in New Mexico and Texas in recent years, the pandemic has lowered oil demand and prices. Marathon Petroleum announced plans in August to cease operations in the area and lay off more than 200 workers – roughly 1 percent of the city’s population.
Operations like Marathon are vital to Gallup’s economy, and job losses helped raise the unemployment rate to 10 in the region. 6 percent in October. Raul Sanchez is one of the workers who lost his job.
One afternoon, two days before Thanksgiving, when I drove past his house on a hill overlooking the western part of town, Mr.. . Sanchez was working on a red pickup. He had worked at Marathon for 10 years. « No other jobs in this town are paying off, » said Mr.. . Sanchez, 39, said.
« It will have an impact on us, » said the city’s mayor, Louis Bonaguidi, earlier this year about the closure of the marathon facility. « It will certainly have an impact on the real estate market. But it will also affect all companies. ”
Hotels barely have enough rooms to make ends meet. The managers of hotels on Route 66 estimated revenue to be more than half that year.
Sammy Chioda, who owns the Sammy C sports bar with his wife Marie, had to lay off most of his employees.
As I drove through Gallup the day before Thanksgiving, the last few minutes of the sun lit up the tracks of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. Despite the city’s struggles, I could still feel a pride in the community as I drove around.
But the feeling of vulnerability was just as evident. Even before the pandemic, more than a quarter of the city’s residents were living in poverty, and that number has increased this year.
Not long after my visit to Rehoboth Medical Center, I saw a group of Navajo men lower a bronze-colored coffin into a grave in a cemetery 50 miles north of Gallup. It wasn’t the only virus-related funeral scheduled there that week.
Deb Haaland, United States Secretary of the Interior, Gallup, New Mexico, Joe Biden, Republican Party, American Indians, United States Congress
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