March 20, 2020

The daily recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (3/20/20 edition)

U.S. Army

Note: This daily recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico from the previous day is available in a daily email. Sign up here. The same post will also appear on our website each morning.

  • Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says a special session is looming because of the economic impact of oil and gas and COVID-19. But she says they need to focus on the COVID-19 response first, and get revenue projections, including any money from federal stimulus. House Republican leadership had sent a letter to Lujan Grisham calling for a special session to address the budget.
  • U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is in self-quarantine after learning she came into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. She is currently showing no symptoms. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján went into self-quarantine earlier this week after what his office described as brief contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
    Two members of the House have tested positive for the disease.
  • The number of positive test cases of COVID-19 in the state rose to 35 Thursday. The state’s Health Department said it has detected community spread.
  • The Bernalillo County District Attorney said his office will avoid in-person hearings for proceedings that can take place by video conferencing.
  • Meanwhile, the Sandoval County attorney wants a court order to release all non-violent inmates during the state of emergency.
  • U.S. Rep Deb Haaland, joined by officials from the state Department of Health and the UNM Hospital, fielded questions Tuesday evening from constituents about testing parameters, equipment shortages and whether the state has enough hospital beds. 
    “We have activated the emergency operations center, and we have taken some concrete measures. We are making an effort to slowly increase our capacity to accept some of the patients with this coronavirus,” said Dr. Nestor Sosa, Division Chief for Infectious Diseases at UNM Hospital. “We’re also preparing the intensive care unit and are evaluating how we can increase our capacity in the next few days by redirecting our staff and analyzing different scenarios to respond to a potential increase in the number of cases.” Read our story here
  • New Mexico’s U.S. Senators are co-sponsoring voting rights legislation, which would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail nationwide. While New Mexico already has both, many states do not, and voting rights advocates say that the recent postponements of primaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic show why they’re necessary.
    Udall said that “voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and it is the duty of elected officials to ensure every citizen has the ability to vote safely – no matter what.”
    Heinrich said, “We have the ability to create safe alternatives to in-person voting, including widespread access to vote-by-mail absentee ballots and early in-person voting. This legislation would help ensure the 2020 elections, and future elections, are resilient to emergencies.” 
  • New Mexico’s delegation demanded that the U.S. State Department aid New Mexicans who are having trouble returning to the United States.
    “Our offices have heard directly from New Mexicans who are stranded abroad or have loved ones who are unable to return to the United States during this time of global crisis,” a joint statement said. “We have received reports that these individuals are not receiving adequate support from the U.S. Department of State in arranging their return to the United States – which is absolutely unacceptable and must be immediately rectified.”
  • U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small wrote a letter along with Rep. Annie Kuster, D-New Hampshire, and 2 other members of Congress to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for additional resources for rural health care providers. They ask for an increase in the reimbursement rates for rural hospitals, an increase in medical supplies, including personal protective equipment, an immediate expansion of telehealth services and more. Read the letter here.
  • A Santa Fe roofing company donated protective gear to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security, reports the Santa Fe Reporter
  • And the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that a clinic in Santa Fe has already run out of medical gear, including swabs for COVID-19 tests.
  • All tribal casinos closed their doors. They are run by sovereign nations, so they are not subject to orders from the governor. Lujan Grisham praised their decision in a statement, saying, “We are extremely grateful that our tribal partners have agreed to join us in doing everything we can to encourage social distancing as our best tool to contain the virus. We understand the economic hardship this creates, and our state agencies will work diligently to assist all employees affected by this temporary closure. Public health must be our primary consideration amid this pandemic.”
  • New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a consumer safety advisory over a number of scams related to COVID-19.
  • The Rio Grande Sun looked at drive-up testing in Rio Arriba County.
  • Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced Thursday that he initiated short-and long-term COVID-19 response teams. The teams will be tasked with identifying critical plans for the city as well as what it will take to keep the city’s essential services going. Gilbert Ramirez,  Deputy Director for Health Programs under the city’s Family & Community Services Department, will head the short-term team, while Michelle Melendez, the city’s Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, will be in charge of the long-term team.
  • Keller also held a press briefing on Thursday.
  • An inmate in Santa Fe County tested negative for COVID-19.
  • A number of advocacy groups sent recommendations to elected officials, including the governor and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura on how to protect workers, allow access to health care and more. See their recommendations here.
  • The University of New Mexico said nearly all residents of on-campus dorms need to leave by March 24, reports the Daily Lobo.
  • A Las Cruces funeral home is livestreaming funerals as the state seeks to keep gatherings at fewer than ten people. Funeral homes can allow immediate family members into the chapel, but the livestreaming is for those who aren’t allowed in.
  • The Secretary of the Interior announced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will temporarily suspend the collection of all entry fees to its lands.
    “I’ve directed the Bureau of Land Management to waive entrance fees at recreation sites and national monuments that remain open. This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors across the 245 million acres of public lands managed by the agency,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican wrote about the impact of closing restaurants to dine-in customers.
  • Breweries around the state say the new restrictions that essentially shut them down for weeks, likely longer, will be devastating according to Albuquerque Business First
  • Presybterian Westside announced Thursday afternoon it had to temporarily stop COVID-19 testing Thursday afternoon due to the weather but is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.  
  • Here all the changes in Grant County government after the recent amendment to the public health emergency order.
  • Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber decried actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently, along with immigrants rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
    “We call on federal immigration officials to halt these audits. Immigrants living in Santa Fe, like so many others in our community, are already feeling tremendous anxiety about their personal health and loss of income as result of COVID-19. Now they are threatened with the possibility of being deported and separated from their families by ICE,” Webber said. “This only makes an uncertain and precarious situation worse, and it needs to stop immediately. This is a time for compassion, for humanity, and for our values to prevail, not ICE enforcement. Everyone in our community needs access to our health care and emergency services without the fear that ICE is injecting into our community.”
  • The New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Health updated the emergency public health orders with further restrictions on food establishments. The departments are urging restaurants to utilize curbside take-out and drive-through options, and ask that customers call orders in ahead of time, to prevent individuals from inadvertently congregating at eateries to place orders or wait for orders.
    “If customers must enter the facility to order or pick up food, facilities should limit the number of customers inside to no more than 10 and encourage social distancing of at least 6 feet between each person,” the departments said in a press release. The state is also asking restaurants to keep staffing levels at 10 people or below at any given time. Restaurants in shopping malls with exterior entrances can remain open for delivery and take-out, but restaurants located in malls without exterior entrances must close. 
  • A PNM employee has tested positive for COVID-19, KOB-TV reports. PNM said individuals who were in contact with the infected employee were notified and asked to quarantine at home.
  • The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) asked to receive $18 billion in U.S. federal aid — roughly 2 percent of the $850 billion economic stimulus package working its way through Congress — as the coronavirus pandemic has forced indigenous nations to close casinos. NIGA said casinos serve as the sole source of revenue for “dozens of tribes.”
  • Kit Carson Electric Cooperative is providing free public Wi-Fi access from 7am to 9pm at various locations across northern New Mexico, the Rio Grande Sun reports.