Massive COVID-19 outbreak at a southern NM prison hits just one type of inmates — sex offenders. That’s by design.

As the coronavirus established a foothold in southern New Mexico’s Otero County Prison Facility in mid-May, state officials quietly moved 39 inmates out of the massive complex near the Texas border to another prison near Santa Fe. The inmates shared something in common: None was a sex offender. In the days before the 39 departed the massive correctiional complex where New Mexico’s only sex offender treatment program is housed, officials were still transferring sex offenders from other state prisons into Otero. It was a routine practice they had yet to stop, even though more than a dozen COVID-19 cases had already emerged elsewhere in the prison. 

Six weeks later, 434 inmates — or 80% — have the virus, within a prison population that’s now entirely composed of people who, at one time or another, were convicted of a state sex offense. Three have died.

121 additional cases and 10 additional related deaths due to COVID-19

The New Mexico Department of Health announced 121 additional COVID-19 cases and ten additional related deaths Thursday. The places with double digit numbers of new cases are three counties: Bernalillo, with 31 new cases; Doña Ana, with 18 new cases and McKinley with 14 new cases plus Otero County Prison Facility, with 17 new cases of state-held inmates who tested positive for the respiratory illness. The ten additional deaths related to COVID-19 brings that total to 420 across the state. The DOH did not give details on underlying conditions but gave basic information on each case:

A male in his 60s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized.A male in his 80s from Doña Ana County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Jim Wood Home in Hatch.A male in his 80s from McKinley County who had underlying conditions and was a patient at the Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque.A second male in his 80s from McKinley County.A female in her 80s from San Juan County who was a resident of the Life Care Center of Farmington in Farmington.A female in her 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of Beehive Homes in Farmington.A second female in her 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of Beehive Homes in Farmington.A male in his 50s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Cedar Ridge Inn facility in Farmington. The state said through its daily announcement that some numbers previously reported that were incorrect have been corrected.

Single biggest daily jump in COVID-19 confirmed cases Friday with 331 positive tests

The state announced the biggest single jump in daily cases of COVID-19 on Friday with 331 additional positive tests with a large part of the increase in  cases coming from the Otero County Prison Facility and the northwest corner of the state. This brings the total number of cases to 8,672. This is the second day in a row when a large portion of the number of additional cases came from the Otero County Prison Facility, with 116 cases from federal inmates and 13 cases from inmates held by the state. McKinley and San Juan counties have the next highest number of additional cases, with 77 new cases in McKinley and 52 new cases in San Juan County. The state Department of Health also announced four additional deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the number of deaths to 387.

COVID-19 cases exceed 7,600, number of deaths crosses 350

The state announced 134 additional test positive COVID-19 cases and seven additional related deaths on Saturday. The largest number of new cases were again in the northwest region of the state, with 58 new cases in McKinley County and 23 in San Juan County. All seven of the deaths were residents from McKinley and San Juan county residents. The new cases bring the total number of new cases to 7,624. The total number of related deaths is now 351 in the state, according to the state Department of Health.

108 new cases and six new deaths related to COVID-19

The state Department of Health announced 108 additional test positive cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths related to the type of coronavirus. The new test positive cases brings the total number of cases of COVID-19 in the state to 7,364 and the total number of deaths related to the disease to 335. DOH released basic information about the deceased:

A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 70s from McKinley County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. She was a resident of Red Rocks Care Center in Gallup.A male in his 20s from McKinley County was hospitalized.A male in his 50s from McKinley County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Rio Arriba County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 60s from San Juan County had underlying conditions. The state has processed 183,544 tests as of Thursday, an increase of 4,001 tests since Wednesday.

Groups rally outside Cibola County jail

Without intervention, as much as 100 percent of immigrants in detention centers could test positive for COVID-19 within the next 90 days and overwhelm state healthcare systems, according to a recent study. The study, produced by the Washington D.C., nonprofit advocacy group the Government Accountability Project, states that, optimistically, 72 percent could become infected with COVID-19 in immigrant detention facilities. The projected 100 percent reflects the pessimistic estimation, the study says. Those projections mean that state health care systems would be overwhelmed, the study reports. A group of advocacy organizations organized a rally, called “Free Them All Friday,” which consisted of about 30 cars that drove around the Cibola County Correctional Center, which holds immigrant detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Friday afternoon to try to bring attention to this problem.

Attorney alleges ‘deliberate indifference’ to COVID-19 in NM prisons, threatens legal action

A group of more than two dozen New Mexico prison inmates, many with compromised immune systems, are considering legal claims against the state Corrections Department for its “gross negligence and deliberate indifference to the dangers of COVID-19,” according to documents obtained by SFR and New Mexico In Depth. As the rest of New Mexico remains under an order against gatherings of over 50 people and pleas from officials to practice social distancing, the state’s prison system has not tested any of the thousands of inmates locked up or the corrections officers guarding them. And there do not appear to be contingency plans in place should an outbreak occur. Parrish Collins, an Albuquerque-based attorney who specializes in civil rights, visited clients at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas on March 9, he wrote in a notice sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and corrections officials four days later. An officer told him the minimum-security lockup “was taking no precautions against coronavirus.”

“It was indicated that it was not a serious threat and there was nothing to worry about,” Collins wrote in the notice.