‘Last responders’ brace for surge in COVID deaths across US

Cindy Loose January 4, 2021

Funeral director Kevin Spitzer has been overwhelmed with covid-related deaths in the small city of Aberdeen, South Dakota. He and his two colleagues at the Spitzer-Miller Funeral Home have been working 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep up with the demand in the community of 26,000. The funerals are sparsely attended, which would have been unthinkable before the pandemic. “We had a funeral for a younger man one recent Saturday, and not 20 people came, because most everyone was just afraid,” he said. As covid-19 has spread from big cities to rural communities, it has stressed not only hospitals, but also what some euphemistically call “last responders.” The crush has overwhelmed morgues, funeral homes and religious leaders, required ingenuity and even changed the rituals of honoring the dead.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

DOH: 1,033 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths Sunday

The state Department of Health reported 1,033 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and 17 additional deaths related to the disease. Bernalillo County had the most newly reported cases on Sunday, with 345. Doña Ana County, with 131, was the only other county with more than 100 cases. On Sunday, the department reported 716 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase of 54 people since Saturday. This could include those from other states who are hospitalized in New Mexico, but would not include New Mexicans who are hospitalized out of state.

DOH: 1,252 additional COVID-19 cases and 32 deaths Saturday

Hed: DOH: 1,252 additional COVID-19 cases and 32 deaths Saturday

The New Mexico Department of Health reported 1,252 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 32 additional deaths related to the disease. Bernalillo County had the most newly reported cases on Saturday, with 268. Three other counties had 100 or more new cases: San Juan County with 174; Doña Ana County with 117 and Eddy County with 104. On Saturday, the department reported 662 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19, a decrease of 129 people since Friday. This could include those from other states who are hospitalized in New Mexico, but would not include New Mexicans who are hospitalized out of state.

DOH: 1,286 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths Friday

The state Department of Health reported 1,286 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 25 additional deaths related to the disease. Bernalillo County had the most newly reported cases on Friday, with 316. Three other counties had 100 or more new cases: San Juan County with 155; Sandoval County with 108; Doña Ana County with 160. On Friday, the department reported 791 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19, an decrease of 12 people since Thursday. This could include those from other states who are hospitalized in New Mexico, but would not include New Mexicans who are hospitalized out of state.

NM judge rules medical cannabis use allowed while on house arrest

A New Mexico state district judge ruled this week that detainees in Bernalillo County’s house arrest program are allowed to use medical cannabis while serving out their sentence.  

In her ruling, Second Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon wrote that Bernalillo County’s Community Custody Program (CCP) is, in effect, the same as parole. New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, as of 2019, allows medical cannabis patients who are on parole or probation to continue their use of medical cannabis. 

“Although CCP is not specifically mentioned in the Compassionate Use Act, [Bernalillo] County fails to demonstrate that CCP should be treated differently than probation or parole,” Solomon wrote. “Therefore, it appears as though the Compassionate Use Act does apply to defendants on CCP as it does to defendants on probation or parole. The issue of whether medical cannabis patients on house arrest can use medical cannabis goes back to 2019 when Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño was sentenced to the Community Custody Program after his seventh drunk driving conviction. Montaño, who was already a registered medical cannabis patient, previously told NM Political Report that he didn’t hide his cannabis use from his case worker during a home visit.

DOH: 1,684 new COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths

The state Department of Health reported 1,684 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 41 additional deaths related to the disease. Bernalillo County had the most newly reported cases on Thursday, with 434. Four other counties had 100 or more new cases: San Juan County with 196; Sandoval County with 121; Doña Ana and Lea counties with 118. On Thursday, the department reported 803 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase of 11 people since Wednesday. This could include those from other states who are hospitalized in New Mexico, but would not include New Mexicans who are hospitalized out of state.

2020 Top Stories #1: The spread of COVID-19

It was clear since March that COVID-19 would be the top story of the year, for New Mexico and nationwide. If you look back at our list, COVID-19 touched on every topic this year. From the impact on the budget to the need for two special sessions, COVID-19 reshaped every aspect of New Mexicans’ lives. On March 11, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the first confirmed cases of the disease in the state, and declared a public health emergency over COVID-19. She banned any gatherings of 100 or more people.

2020 Top Stories #2: State budget impacts of pandemic, oil bust

State legislators finished the 2020 legislative session with a $7.6 billion budget in February that expanded spending 7.5 percent across the state’s departments, with more than 45 percent of all new recurring expenditures going toward what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the “education continuum,” from early childhood programs to higher education. 

Then the pandemic hit in March, which brought the state’s economy to a grinding halt. And in April, a price war between Russia and Saudia Arabia drove the price of oil into negative territory for the first time ever. 

In May, a group of state economists from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) warned that recurring revenues for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) could decline between $370 million to $480 million below forecasts from the previous year. That meant the state wouldn’t have enough money to cover FY20’s spending, the economists said. 

2020 Top Stories #3: Black Lives Matter and social justice movements

See our entire countdown of 2020 top stories, to date, here. This year seemed to really pile on. Besides a contentious election and a worsening COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexicans saw numerous protests and pushes for social justice improvements. 

This summer, groups like Black Lives Matter increased their presence and the frequency of their marches. 

While the majority of the demonstrations ended peacefully, there were a handful of instances that turned violent. 

A lot of attention was spent trying to piece together what exactly happened at what started as a prayer session around a statue of the controversial conquistador Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque. While some were trying to tear the statue down, counter protesters tried to play interference. One of those counter protesters allegedly shot someone during a scuffle. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, there were still many questions about what role Albuquerque police were supposed to take as the incident escalated.