The COVID-19 downturn triggers jump in Medicaid enrollment

Reversing a three-year decline, the number of people covered by Medicaid nationwide rose markedly this spring as the impact of the recession caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 began to take hold. Yet, the growth in participation in the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people was less than many analysts predicted. One possible factor tempering enrollment: People with concerns about catching the coronavirus avoided seeking care and figured they didn’t need the coverage. Program sign-ups are widely expected to accelerate through the summer, reflecting the higher number of unemployed. As people lose their jobs, many often are left without workplace coverage or the money to buy insurance on their own.

The color of COVID: Will vaccine trials reflect America’s diversity?

When U.S. scientists launch the first large-scale clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines this summer, Antonio Cisneros wants to make sure people like him are included. Cisneros, who is 34 and Hispanic, is part of the first wave of an expected 1.5 million volunteers willing to get the shots to help determine whether leading vaccine candidates can thwart the virus that sparked a deadly pandemic. “If I am asked to participate, I will,” said Cisneros, a Los Angeles cinematographer who has signed up for two large vaccine trial registries. “It seems part of our duty.”

It will take more than duty, however, to ensure that clinical trials to establish vaccine safety and effectiveness actually include representative numbers of African Americans, Latinos and other racial minorities, as well as older people and those with underlying medical conditions, such as kidney disease. Black and Latino people have been three times as likely as white people to become infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die, according to federal data obtained via a lawsuit by The New York Times.

State hits new high of COVID-19 cases, led by Cibola County Correctional Center

New Mexico health officials announced 467 new cases of COVID-19, by far the most in a single day—with 170 coming from the Cibola County Correctional Center. 

The report also showed continued growth in southern and eastern New Mexico. The previous record for New Mexico was 338 confirmed cases set just last week, on July 23. Now, New Mexico had its first day of more than 400 cases. The state also announced five additional deaths. In total, the state now has 19,502 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 619 deaths related to the disease.

Pay up or lockup: Housing shortage kept cash-poor parolees behind bars

David, 28, was counting the days until January 6, 2012, when his prison sentence would end and he would be released on parole. He had earned his GED diploma inside and lined up some job options in construction and landscaping around Albuquerque. But the date came and went, and still the state kept him locked up. 

The problem was housing. There was only one halfway house in the state that would take an inmate like David — a convicted sex offender — and it had a long waiting list. If he wanted to get a bed there anytime soon, David would have to buy his freedom — in cash. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished here with permission.

Bakeries adjust to new marketplace during the pandemic

Whether people are staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus or due the summer heat, New Mexican bakeries are still selling their goods during the pandemic. The American food services sector has been facing decline since March due to businesses operating either at limited capacity or closing altogether, as well as a shrinking customer base while people eat at home more and eat at restaurants less. According a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the pandemic combined with stay-at-home orders in many states led to a 19.3 percent increase in spending at grocery stores and retail stores for eating at home in March 2020 over the year prior, as well as a 28.3 percent decrease in food-away-from-home spending in that same timeframe. Though grocery stores appear to be stocking up again on previously less accessible items like toilet paper and meat, food scarcity is still affecting bakeries across the country. 

Walking into a grocery store today, it may be commonplace to find smaller bags of flour packaged by hand from bulk bags in the baking section or some items missing altogether, like yeast or certain egg or flour products. Adrian Zavala, a manager at Busy B’s Bakery in Las Cruces, said the bakery has not experienced much difficulty finding ingredients since March.

324 new cases of COVID-19 in NM, six additional deaths

For the fifth-straight day, New Mexico health officials announced more than 300 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, as the virus continues to spread throughout the state. The total number of new cases on Saturday was 324. The state Department of Health also announced six additional deaths. There are now 18,788 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 607 deaths related to the disease. As has been the case recently, Bernalillo County led the state, this time with 93 cases.

Groups critical of OCD’s ‘bare bones’ proposed rule for produced water

Conservation and environmental groups are unhappy with the state’s first step towards regulating the use of treated produced water, a toxic waste byproduct of oil and gas activity, outside the oilfield. 

The state Oil Conservation Division (OCD), which sits within the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), released a proposed rule amendment in late June to align its produced water regulations with new mandates established in the state Produced Water Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The law established jurisdictional and legal clarity over produced water use in New Mexico and aimed to encourage oil and gas producers to reuse produced water when possible rather than rely on fresh water sources for oil and gas extraction. 

As unconventional drilling exploded over the past few years in New Mexico, so has the amount of wastewater being produced. Every barrel of oil generates four to seven barrels of wastewater, of which oil and gas operators must pay to dispose. In 2018 alone, over a billion barrels of wastewater was produced in New Mexico. 

Oil and gas operators are having a hard time disposing of that waste, and are increasingly looking for uses for the water outside the oil field. That’s led to a push among some oil-producing states to begin formulating new rules that would allow for produced water to be treated and put to use in other sectors, such as road construction and management, and even irrigation.

COVID-19 related deaths reach 600; cases grow statewide including growth in southern, eastern counties

New Mexico health officials announced another 317 cases of COVID-19, the fourth straight day and the sixth day in the last two weeks with over 300 newly reported cases in a single day. Previously, the state Department of Health had only reported 300 or more cases once. The state also announced five additional deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 601. The state crossed the mark of 500 deaths related to COVID-19 on July 1. There are now 18,475 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico.

A ‘pause’ on in-person K-12 teaching until at least Labor Day

Amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in New Mexico and region-wide that hit a record-high for single-day cases in New Mexico Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that schools will not begin in-person instruction until at least Labor Day. “This pause on in-person reentry is not the same as delaying education support,” Lujan Grisham said. School districts will be able to work with a remote-learning, or an online-only model, until at least Labor Day. And during that time, the state Public Education Department encouraged districts to aid students in supplies for online learning and provide additional professional development for teachers. The state’s goal is to phase-in some in-person learning, using a hybrid model with some in-person instruction and the rest as remote learning, after Labor Day.

State hits ‘all-time high’ with 343 new COVID-19 cases

State health officials reported a record 343 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and five deaths related to the disease. The state has recorded a total of 18,163 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and a total of 596 individuals have died. 

It’s the sixth day the state has reported over 300 cases, and the 22nd consecutive day the state has reported more than 200 new cases. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference Thursday afternoon that the numbers are cause for concern. 

“That is our all-time high since we’ve been battling this pandemic. That in and of itself is not good news,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county, reported 126 cases, while five other counties reported double-digit increases in new cases, including Lea County, which has experienced an uptick in cases since the beginning of July.  

New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) officials have processed a total of 496,985 tests. Of the 7,651 tests processed since Wednesday, 4.4 percent were positive. 

There are currently 167 individuals hospitalized for COVID-19, a decrease of 11 since Wednesday.