March 21, 2020

The daily recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (3/21/20 edition)

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  • The number of cases of COVID-19 has risen to 43, and for the first time, a test positive case has been detected in southern New Mexico and western New Mexico.
  • As of Late Thursday, there have been fourteen confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation, all in Chilchinbeto, Arizona. The first two cases had a history of travel. The Navajo Nation government ordered the closure of Chilchinbeto for quarantine and isolation.
  • Drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Las Cruces halted after 11 a.m., two hours after it began, when the location ran out of tests. Testing in Las Cruces will begin again on Monday.
  • The state of New Mexico extended its tax deadlines by 90 days, echoing a move by the federal government. New Mexico state personal and corporate income taxes and withholding taxes will be due on July 15. The state will not assess any penalties on taxes filed between April 15 and July 15, though interest will continue to accrue because of state law.
    “The unprecedented public health crisis caused by COVID-19 is also causing great financial hardship for New Mexico residents and small businesses,” said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. “These actions represent one piece of our overall efforts to support our businesses and families during this emergency.”
  • The Albuquerque Journal wrote about how first responders are dealing with COVID-19 and the possibility of infection. Already, the paper reported, two Albuquerque Fire Rescue firefighters are at home in quarantine after coming into contact with someone who may have had COVID-19.
  • And the Santa Fe New Mexican looked at how police work is happening in the era of COVID-19.
  • New Mexico State University economic professor Chris Erickson said he believed the United States will fall into a recession from the impacts of COVID-19. And he says New Mexico’s recovery will be different than the rest of the nation because of our reliance on oil and gas prices.
  • The state is working on contingency plans for the state budget, but it’s still too early to determine where the state’s financial standing will be after the COVID-19 and oil price plunge fallout.
  • The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will conduct more of its visits for youth via phone or video. It’s an attempt to “flatten the curve,” and slow the spread of COVID-19, department Secretary Brian Blalock said in a statement.
  • Unemployment filings have, not surprisingly, skyrocketed.
  • Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Friday that she opened the online absentee ballot application portal for primaries early; if you’re a registered Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, you can participate in the primaries. To request an absentee ballot, go to NMVote.org, which will direct you to the portal.
    “Though there will still be in-person voting during the early vote period and on June 2nd, I encourage voters to utilize an absentee ballot as a way to fulfill your civic duty to vote while also fulfilling your civic duty to practice social distance,” Toulouse Oliver said.
  • Albuquerque hospitals need blood donations. The City of Albuquerque said those looking to give blood should go to vitalant.org to search for blood drives.
  • Sen. Tom Udall joined nineteen other U.S. Senators in writing a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to use all of his authorities under the Defense Production Act to ramp up production on necessary equipment, including testing kits, personal protection equipment and ventilators.
    From the letter:
    “Our domestic industries are ready and waiting for the call to respond to the critical ongoing shortages of key medical equipment and supplies. But they need capital, federal contracts, and other assurances in order to act. We can activate America’s ingenuity and resolve by immediately providing that financial incentive and direction through the full use of DPA authorities. We urge you to move forward in using these authorities immediately, for the sake of the health and well-being of the American people.”
  • New Mexico’s Medicaid program is promoting telemedicine by requiring managed care organizations to reimburse health care professionals for telephone and video visits by patients until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
    “It’s vitally important that Medicaid members – who make up almost half of all New Mexicans – have safe access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux said. “We are working closely with our provider networks to ensure they’re adequately supported, and we are also pursuing every federal option to secure reimbursements for providers who are delivering needed health care to New Mexicans in unconventional settings.”
    And Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal told insurance companies they are expected to also cover telehealth services at the same rate as in-person services.
  • The New Mexico Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists told hair and nail salons, barbershops and other businesses and schools under its regulation that they must limit the number of people in their facilities to 10 people.
  • The Farmington Daily-Times looked at how Lujan Grisham’s latest amendment to the public health emergency order is impacting area businesses.
  • The state Regulation and Licensing Department is suspending the requirement for proof of education for those with licensure expiration dates through July 31, 2020. Once the suspension is limited, those impacted will have an as-yet set amount of time to submit their credits to the applicable board.
  • Grocery stores throughout the city of Albuquerque have specific shopping hours for the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. 
  • The Donald Trump administration is limiting nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico.
  • The Los Alamos National Lab, which is continuing operations amid the pandemic, assembled a Pandemic Advisory Team, led by the lab’s medical director. The team is monitoring the situation at the lab, according to the Los Alamos Daily Post. “The Laboratory is taking precautionary measures to protect the health of the people who work at the Laboratory and surrounding communities, including a liberal work from home policy, where possible, to promote social distancing,” a spokesperson told the Post, and  all of the measures taken at the lab “are closely aligned with the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration,” according to the Post.  
  • The Public Regulation Commission (PRC) released an emergency rule to prevent PRC-regulated utilities from disconnecting service to residential customers over nonpayment. The rule will remain in place as long as the governor’s declaration of public health emergency remains in effect, according to the Farmington Daily Times
  • The state’s COVID-19 hotline is receiving about 500 calls per day, according to KOB-TV. Operators are available 24/7 to field questions any New Mexicans might have about the virus. The state is hiring new employees and taking on volunteers to help answer phones. The COVID-19 hotline is 1-855-600-3453.
  • The NM congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo Friday urging the Department of State to help New Mexicans who are currently abroad get home. New Mexicans stuck abroad due to travel restrictions have called their U.S. congress members and asked for help, according to the letter. “Our inquiries to the Department of State to date have made clear that no plan exists to bring these citizens home safely,” the letter reads. “We seek immediate clarification on the resources the Department of State will require to ensure New Mexicans are able to return home. We ask that you work in coordination with the Department of Defense, commercial airline industry partners, and state and local governments to ensure that the United States uses all resources at its disposal toward this end.”
  • State economists are developing a contingency plan for the state budget, as a drop in oil prices threatens the budget just passed a month ago. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports state economists are closely monitoring the state’s revenue streams and are working on financial forecasts to help lawmakers decide whether they need to trim the state budget amid “extreme market fluctuations.”