Deputy Marcos Chavez, Lieutenant Richard Lopez and County Sheriff William Armijo were three vocal citizens representing Socorro County first responders with concerns over the COVID-19 regulations with the county commissioners.
Greg Byrd | El Defensor Chieftain


Socorro County employees who are vaccinated for COVID-19 get paid time off if they need to stay home due to the virus. Unvaccinated employees do not, and Socorro’s sheriff is unhappy with that approach.

Three deputies got Covid at a training for work. The deputy who was vaccinated was covered with administrative leave, but the two unvaccinated deputies had to stay home with no paid time off, said Sheriff William Armijo.

“I have new deputies that if they have their leave taken from them because they haven’t had their shot, they starve,” he said. “They don’t pay their bills. Their families don’t get taken care of and it’s just time to say something. I’m not asking for a rebellion because I’m not that kind of person. I’m just not rebellious. I just think it’s time to take care of the people.”

Armijo came to last week’s county commission meeting asking for an official written policy on leave for county employees who test positive for COVID-19. The commissioners discussed the issue with the sheriff in executive session and listened to public comments on it in open session, but they did not finalize a policy.

OSHA is expected to make national mandated adjustments, said Commissioner Manuel Anaya, which the commission plans to use when they return to the issues during their next meeting.

Several county employees also attended to voice their displeasure with the county’s approach to paid time off and to requiring COVID-19 testing.

“When this pandemic hit we didn’t know what we were facing,” Lt. Richard Lopez told the commissioners. “And yet we came out every single day. Not one of us knew if we were going to die or take this back to our families.”

Lopez told the Chieftain that after 23 years in law enforcement he will be leaving if the requirement to be regularly tested for COVID-19 continues. Lopez said he is not opposed to the vaccine but does not think he personally needs it or that the county should require weekly COVID testing for unvaccinated employees.

“Why am I going to vaccinate myself for something I believe I’ve already had? I just don’t think it’s necessary,” said Lopez. “Am I anti vax? No. My mom got it. My wife’s got it. If my kids want it, I’ll get it for them, and one day if I think I want it, I’ll get it.”

The CDC recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of whether someone’s had COVID-19 already. According to the CDC’s FAQ on COVID-19 vaccination, “evidence is emerging that people get better protection by being fully vaccinated compared with having had COVID-19. One study showed that unvaccinated people who already had COVID-19 are more than 2 times as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again.”

During public comment, County Emergency Manager Gail Tripp pointed out that the county did not require regular COVID testing of employees until the governor mandated it.

“As the commission considers their policies and their plans for how we move forward in COVID, please understand that a lot of the county residents do not support singling out individuals, segregating them, defining them differently because of their personal health choices,” said Tripp.

Armijo asked what will happen to employees who refuse to test, because there is no ordinance or policy in place that outlines the consequences for refusing to get tested for COVID-19.

County Manager Michael Hawkes said that the county’s administration has decided not to take any administrative actions.

“We’ve had tons of other violations that administratively we have not taken action on,” said Hawkes.

County attorney Adren Nance said that if the federal government forces the county to take action in response to employees refusing to get tested for COVID-19, then the county government will have to figure something out.

Greg Byrd
Cathy Cook