Two New Mexico churches are being fined by the Department of Health after videos were released of crowded rooms with hundreds of maskless congregants standing shoulder-to-shoulder during their Christmas Eve ceremonies, KRQE reported.
Both Calvary Church and Legacy Church based in Albuquerque were issued $10,000 fines each for allegedly violating the Public Health Order for operating over 25% capacity and violating the COVID-19 Safe Practices by failing to enforce face coverings.
The Governor's Office said in a statement to KRQE that the churches and their leaders endangered the lives, livelihoods and health of not only their parishioners but their entire communities."
The statement continued, "These illegal and selfish gatherings will directly contribute to more suffering and illness in our state. These church leaders should reflect on the danger they’ve unleashed in their communities."
The churches are able to request an administrative evidentiary hearing to dispute the fines.
Calvary Church said in a statement provided to KRQE that they encouraged churchgoers to "maintain safe social distance, wear face coverings, and properly sanitize," adding that, "church seating was staggered in the main auditoriums with every other row cordoned off so people were kept from sitting directly behind or in front of anyone outside their immediate family."
Legacy Church said in a statement that the state should "fold its losing hand against Churches" and "focus on the truly vulnerable."
The entire state has infected nearly 140,000 cases and 2,400 deaths, according to statistics from the Department of Health. In Bernalillo County, where the city of Albuquerque is, there are just over 300 daily cases recorded. But overall cases in the state have gone down since the end of November.
In Gallup, where the unemployment rate is one-and-a-half times the national average, hospitals are flooded with patients and almost at full capacity, according to a recent report by The New York Times. Native American communities have been hit particularly hard in the state, averaging about 40% of all cases, despite making up less than 10% of the state's population, the outlet reported.