Navajo Nation president expresses concern over county jail conditions

While New Mexico grapples with a delayed roll-out of reopening businesses and cancelled public events, some detention centers are grappling with increasing numbers of COVID-19. 

A privately run prison in Otero County, which houses both state and federal detainees, has seen a dramatic increase in cases of the disease. 

But now a county jail in northern New Mexico with hundreds of reported cases since March has caught the attention of at least one tribal leader. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to San Juan County leaders last week calling for an investigation into how the county jail is run and what is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A portion of the Navajo Nation is in San Juan County and, like the county jail, has seen a high number of positive cases. In his letter, Nez cited a phone call from someone whose relative is in the San Juan County Adult Detention Center (SJCADC). The caller, Nez wrote, said the jail is lacking adequate ventilation, no separation of infected inmates, no laundry service and little to no sanitation efforts by jail officials. 

“How is SJCADC providing for the respect and dignity of the Detainees with a safe and secure environment that is maintained for operational readiness?” Nez asked in the letter. 

He went on to say that he would like to see county officials look into the conditions at the jail. 

“An investigation into the SJCADC operations and more specifically during these times of unprecedented crisis is requested, along with remedies for accountability and responsibility to do the right thing,” he wrote. 

The Navajo Nation did not respond to interview requests. In response, Chairman of the San Juan County Commission Jack Fortner wrote a letter disputing the allegation that inmates are subjected to sub-par conditions. 

Fortner wrote that the jail accepted an offer from the New Mexico Department of Health to provide guidance from Infectious Disease Bureau Medical Director Dr. Aja Sanzone.

Agonizing lag in coronavirus research puts pregnant women and babies at risk

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. In late June, after three months of near silence on the topic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally weighed in on a question of critical importance to millions of American women and families: How dangerous is the coronavirus for pregnant women and new mothers? The CDC had been asserting that pregnant women don’t seem to be at higher risk for severe complications from the virus. As recently as late May, a spokesperson told ProPublica, “Current evidence shows pregnant women have the same risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as adults who are not pregnant.”

Then, the agency abruptly changed its tone.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (7/7/20 edition)

This morning recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free email every weekday. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. The streak of more than 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued on Monday, reaching five days. Plus, the percentage of positive tests is increasing. Read more here.The uptick in cases is not due to increased testing, the state Department of Health told KOB-TV.Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to San Juan County leaders last week calling for an investigation into how the county jail is run and what is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

NM again reports 250+ COVID-19 cases, with new record-high in Doña Ana County

The New Mexico Department of Health announced 253 additional cases of COVID-19, the fifth-straight day with over 200 cases and the third day out of four with more than 250 cases. Before Friday, the state had only recorded one day with more than 250 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19. Monday’s numbers reflected the largest one-day total of cases in Doña Ana County, with 85. Bernalillo County followed with 60. 

The previous highest number of cases from Doña Ana County, which includes the state’s second-most populous city, was 56 on July 4. 

In addition to the 253 confirmed cases, the state also announced two additional deaths. The percentage of total tests per positive tests on Monday was 4.88 percent.

The Carlsbad region was poised to send $3 billion to New Mexico coffers, thanks to one of the biggest oil booms in history. Then came COVID.

On a Thursday in late May, Michael Trujillo sat in the slightly softened evening light and watched his three children play in the water at Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, an unexpected patch of blue in the Chihuahuan desert. With his pit bull puppy at his feet, Trujillo passed slices of pizza from a stack of three Little Caesars boxes to two men in camp chairs. All three are oilfield workers, Carlsbad natives and, unlike thousands of others in the industry, all are still employed. But that hasn’t relieved their anger at the New Mexico governor and her coronavirus shutdown orders. “She needs to open the place up and let us do what we need to do,” the 36-year-old Trujillo said. 

Like a lot of people in town, Trujillo wishes Carlsbad was in Texas. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. In that state, just 40 miles to the south, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t order a COVID-19 lockdown until April 2 and allowed businesses to start reopening by May 1.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (7/6/20 edition)

This morning recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free email every weekday. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. Cases of COVID-19 continued to grow over the weekend, with 257 on Friday, 291 on Saturday and 203 on Sunday.The Albuquerque Journal reported that the state Office of the Medical Investigator is looking into the 2,300 unexpected deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, a 20 percent increase in those types of deaths.Among those is suicides, and New Mexico’s suicide rate is the highest in the country.KUNM-FM spoke with Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth journalist Jeff Proctor about the outbreak among prisoners in Otero County.The mayor of Grants led an Independence Day parade on Saturday, despite the governor urging him not to, KOB-TV reported. Cibola County has the third-highest rate of COVID-19 per capita in the state.Critics say that the ban on visitors to group homes for developmentally disabled people is unfair, the Albuquerque Journal reported.Out-of-state visitors flocked to Elephant Butte this weekend, KRQE-TV reported.Alexis Johnson, the Republican candidate in the 3rd Congressional District, received a citation for not wearing a mask while on Santa Fe Plaza. The mayor of Clovis is urging people to wear masks, The Eastern New Mexico News reported.The state wants to buy more sewing machines so inmates, earning between 40 cents and $1.50 per hour, can make more masks, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced on Friday that she would retire, though the statement said she would remain in the position through the “current wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic.“Every single day of this public health crisis has been a physically and mentally exhausting ordeal – not just for the Department of Health, not just for the thousands of health care professionals putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to protect New Mexicans, but for all of us as the people of this state,” Kunkel said. “I am incredibly proud of the work done by the Department of Health and indeed the entire state of New Mexico in addressing this virus, in mitigating its spread and in doing everything we can to keep New Mexicans safe and healthy.

NM sees a fourth-straight day of 200+ new COVID-19 cases

State health officials announced Sunday an additional 203 cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, with no new deaths related to the disease. The number of tests, which reached a record-high on Saturday, dipped to one of the lowest totals in weeks. In total, there have been 13,256 confirmed cases in the state and 513 total deaths. 

Bernalillo County had the most new cases, but McKinley County still has the most total cases and San Juan County has the second highest total number of cases. 

State health officials also reported 119 people are currently hospitalized in New Mexico with COVID-19, a decrease of two since Saturday, and 5,860 people are deemed recovered from the disease, an increase of 15 since Saturday. 

The state reported 375,054 tests processed, an increase of 2,766 since Saturday. The percentage of positive tests to total tests was 7.3 percent, well above the state’s seven-day average. Here are the new cases broken down by county:

65 new cases in Bernalillo County8 new cases in Chaves County2 new cases in Cibola County3 new cases in Curry County38 new cases in Doña Ana County1 new case in Eddy County2 new cases in Grant County1 new case in Hidalgo County15 new cases in Lea County4 new cases in Luna County20 new cases in McKinley County1 new case in Roosevelt County1 new case in Sandoval County28 new cases in San Juan County8 new cases in Santa Fe County2 new cases in Torrance County4 new cases in Valencia County

And here are the county totals, including Sunday’s announcement:

Bernalillo County: 2,471Catron County: 2Chaves County: 120Cibola County: 233Colfax County: 9Curry County: 193Doña Ana County: 1,128Eddy County: 103Grant County: 24Guadalupe County: 20Harding County: 1Hidalgo County: 59Lea County: 187Lincoln County: 13Los Alamos County: 8Luna County: 101McKinley County: 3,502Otero County: 58Quay County: 6Rio Arriba County: 106Roosevelt County: 71Sandoval County: 761San Juan County: 2,542San Miguel County: 22Santa Fe County: 267Sierra County: 14Socorro County: 60Taos County: 48Torrance County: 48Union County: 8Valencia County: 146

The Otero County Prison facility, which houses inmates in state custody still has the highest number of total cases of COVID-19 among those in state or federal custody. 

Here are the totals for state prisons:

Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 6Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 1Otero County Prison Facility: 448Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 1

Here are the totals for federal detention centers within New Mexico. 

Cibola County Correctional Center: 2Otero County Prison Facility: 275Otero County Processing Center: 149Torrance County Detention Facility: 43

Health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear face coverings in public and to stay at home as much as possible. They also asked anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 to immediately see a healthcare professional or call the Department of Health at 1-855-600-3453. 

Nearly 300 new cases of COVID-19 in NM, as state processes record number of tests

On Saturday, the state Department of Health announced that 291 people tested positive for COVID-19, once again setting the standard for the second-most confirmed cases in a single day in New Mexico. The number came as the state reached a new single-day high in COVID-19 tests. Additionally, the state announced two additional deaths related to the disease. 

Of the tests that were part of Saturday’s announcement, the positivity rate was 3.26 percent, similar to those in recent days, but still up from the record lows earlier this month. 

As of Saturday, the state has now recorded 13,063 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 513 deaths related to the disease. Of the state’s confirmed cases, 1,446—or 11.1 percent—have come in the last seven days. Saturday’s numbers included 79 cases in Bernalillo County, 56 in Doña Ana County, 34 in McKinley County, 25 in Lea County, 21 in San Juan County, ten in Cibola County and 10 in Eddy County. 

Cases have dramatically spiked in Bernalillo County, as well as areas bordering Texas, which includes Doña Ana, Eddy and Lea counties.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise: DOH reports 257 new cases and 8 related deaths

State health officials announced Friday 257 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths related to the disease heading into the Fourth of July weekend. The largest increases in new cases were in Bernalillo, Doña Ana and McKinley counties, three counties that have seen more new cases each day this week. Five of the eight new deaths were in McKinley County. The state also announced 11 new cases at the federal Torrance County Detention Facility. In all, five counties had double-digit rises in new cases. 

Friday’s number of new cases represent the highest single-day increase since June 5, when the state saw a record 331 new cases reported.

State not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county jails

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise within state-run detention centers across New Mexico, namely in Otero County, the numbers for county jails often go overlooked by the general public. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office reports the number of positive cases within state and federal detention centers daily. Her office also includes the number of congregate care facilities that have seen positive tests in the last 28 days. But those daily reports do not include any information on the roughly half a dozen county jails around the state. 

According to the state Department of Health, those numbers are purposefully left out of daily reports because state officials think they would add more confusion than clarification. 

During a news conference on Wednesday, NM Political Report asked Lujan Grisham why the state was not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county detention centers. She said even though the state is collecting those numbers they are not released in daily updates from her office. Without clarifying the reason for not including those numbers in the updates, she said the data is there. 

“We know by zip code, we know by, often, occupation, we know by correctional facility, we know whether it’s staff or it’s an inmate, whether in a nursing home, whether it’s staff or a resident, we are and we continue to refine getting the data,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Immediately after the news conference, NM Political Report requested that data from Lujan Grisham’s office, but was told by a DOH spokesman that any request for county detention center data would need to be requested from the counties themselves. 

David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the information would have to come from the counties that oversee each regional detention center and would likely require an official records request pursuant to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).