Meet Mary Wakefield, the nurse administrator tasked with revamping the CDC

It’s been a rough couple of years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facing a barrage of criticism for repeatedly mishandling its response to the covid-19 pandemic and more recently monkeypox, the agency has acknowledged it failed and needs to change. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has tapped Mary Wakefield — an Obama administration veteran and nurse — to helm a major revamp of the sprawling agency and its multibillion-dollar budget. Making the changes will require winning over wary career CDC scientists, combative members of Congress, and a general public that in many cases has stopped looking to the agency for guidance. “If she can’t fix it, she’ll say, ‘It’s not fixable, here’s why, and here’s what needs to be done next,’” said Eileen Sullivan-Marx, dean of the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, who has known Wakefield professionally for decades.

NM Supreme Court upholds dismissal of case involving COVID-19 conditions in prisons

The New Mexico Supreme Court today on Thursday issued a written opinion that upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at the state’s correctional department over the release of inmates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the opinion, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Michael Vigil wrote that a Santa Fe District Court judge was right to dismiss a lawsuit against the state that sought to release inmates as a precaution against COVID-19 outbreaks in state correctional facilities. The lower court judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs, who were eight inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, did not first exhaust all administrative appeal options before filing the suit. Vigil wrote that a “balance must be struck” that allows the New Mexico Corrections Department to address concerns through a grievance process but does not overburden the department. 

“We cannot say that the entire inmate population of New Mexico may be considered to have exhausted administrative remedies simply because some unnamed class member/inmate tried to file a grievance,” Vigil wrote. “Similarly, we cannot say that the nearly 6,000 inmates must each individually show they have exhausted administrative remedies. Such a requirement for all class members could unduly burden the prison’s complaint system and delay resolution of grievances.” 

The original suit asked the court to order the Corrections Department to lessen the population in state correctional facilities and to take further steps to protect inmates from COVID-19 by providing masks and testing and to better isolate inmates who became infected. 

The high court also ruled that the administrative appeal requirement in cases like this is “satisfied as to an entire plaintiff class when one or more named class members have exhausted administrative remedies for each claim raised by the class,” but the court also noted that none of the plaintiffs in the case filed an administrative appeal with the Department of Corrections.

Lujan Grisham tests positive for COVID-19

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tested positive for COVID-19, her office announced on Thursday morning. She said she only has mild symptoms.

Lujan Grisham will isolate at the governor’s residence and will continue to work remotely, according to the announcement. This is the first time the governor has tested positive for COVID-19 and she last tested negative for the disease on Wednesday. The first-term governor said she started a course of the antiviral Paxlovid. “I am very grateful to be experiencing only mild symptoms after being fully vaccinated and twice boosted against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Senator Luján, HHS Secretary Becerra talk mental health in Las Cruces 

Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra listened to youth behavioral health professionals at a roundtable discussion held on Wednesday at Arrowhead Early College High School in Las Cruces. Luján and Becerra both made general remarks but mostly listened to the local professionals talk about challenges they see facing youth in New Mexico. Dan Green, the state survey epidemiologist supervisor, said that according to 2019 data, 40.4 percent of New Mexico children experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. He said that is higher than national trends. According to the 2019 data, 50.7 percent of girls in New Mexico were likely to experience sadness or hopelessness compared to 30.3 percent of New Mexico boys.

Nicaraguan asylum seeker files complaint to DHS regarding ‘inhumane’ treatment

The New Mexico Immigration Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on behalf of a Nicaraguan asylum seeker, Edgar Garrido Diaz, alleging violation of his due process rights, medical neglect and abuse while housed at Cibola County Correctional Center. According to the complaint, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied Garrido Diaz’s due process rights by not providing him with a translator to help him fill out his asylum application, failing to provide him with a translator to file an appeal once denied asylum and by continuing to detain him despite a court order that should have allowed his release while he pursued asylum in the U.S.

An ICE and Department of Homeland Security public affairs officer responded that the agency was working on a response to the allegations but did not respond to NM Political Report by deadline. The complaint also alleges medical neglect because, while Garrido Diaz was detained at the facility run by CoreCivic, officers denied Garrido Diaz medical attention for 24 hours despite the fact that he tested positive for COVID-19 and suffered multiple symptoms.

Matthew Davio, public affairs manager for CoreCivic, denied the medical neglect allegations, saying that the situation described in the complaint is not “accurate nor reflective of our policies, procedures or values.”

“We vehemently deny any allegations of detainee mistreatment. There is a robust grievance process in place should a detainee ever feel that they have been treated unfairly,” he said. The complaint alleges further medical neglect because Garrido Diaz suffered an injury in early July to his knee and ankle and officers did not take him for a medical exam until two weeks later, despite Garrido Diaz’s inability to walk on the leg, the complaint states.

New Mexico’s Paid Sick Leave law goes into effect

A group of legislators, advocates and individuals celebrated the start of New Mexico’s Paid Sick Leave law, which officially starts Friday. The Paid Sick Leave bill passed after a bitter fight between Democrats in the state Senate in the final hours before the legislature ended. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill. State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the sponsors of the bill agreed to let the bill go into effect on July 1, 2022 instead of July 1, 2021 as a compromise with New Mexico businesses who said they could not afford to provide paid sick leave, particularly after being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stewart said there was an attempt to weaken the law before the start of the 2022 legislature but no bill was ever introduced.

Girls more likely to suffer depression and suicide, CDC report finds 

According to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , girls experience persistent feelings of sadness and suicide at higher rates than boys and the trend is on an uptick. The report, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, shows that this problem has been on an upward trend since at least 2009.  Kathleen Ethier, PhD and director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health led the survey and was the senior author on the mental health paper. She said through email to NM Political Report that “it’s not entirely clear why females are experiencing poorer mental health and suicidal thoughts and attempts.”

“However, previous research suggests that young women may be more adversely impacted by negative messages in social media and females experience more of certain types of violence like electronic bullying and sexual assault,” she said. In 2009, 26 percent of girls the CDC surveyed said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness over the previous year. But in 2019, the CDC found that 37 percent of girls said they did.

A New Mexico Indigenous group has been addressing menstrual product shortage long before it became a national issue

Although the media began focusing on the menstrual product shortage in recent weeks, grassroots organization Indigenous Women Rising have been focused on the shortage since at least the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rachel Lorenzo, Mescalero Apache/Laguna Pueblo/Xicana and co-founder of IWR, said that when Tribal governments began giving out COVID care packages at the start of the pandemic, IWR assessed the gaps and noticed items missing that affected menstruating individuals and babies. Lorenzo, who uses they/them pronouns, said IWR began supplying, free of charge, menstrual cups, discs and period panties to Indigenous menstruating people in the U.S. and Canada. “IWR started piloting a program to send reusable menstrual products to Indigenous people who are interested and [for whom] it might be out of reach financially and geographically,” they said. Lorenzo said this is not a “catchall” solution and the price problem remains persistent.

Slight majority of voters give thumbs up to Gov on COVID response

A slight majority of voters support Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, while a slight plurality say the same about President Joe Biden according to a poll commissioned by NM Political Report. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found that 51 percent of voters approve of the job Lujan Grisham has done in handling the ongoing pandemic, while 46 percent disapproved. The same amount disapproved of President Joe Biden’s job performance on the pandemic, though just 48 percent said they approved. The approval largely fell along partisan lines, with 81 percent of Democrats approving of Biden’s handling of the pandemic compared to 10 percent who disapproved, while 86 percent of Republicans disapproved of the handling of the pandemic and 12 percent approved. Among independent voters, 61 percent disapproved, while 33 percent approved.

What the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade could mean to New Mexico’s LGBTQIA+ community

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as is now expected this summer, the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community will be thrown into jeopardy, advocates believe. In the leaked draft opinion that reveals the Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito attacked the court’s arguments written into the Roe v. Wade decision affirming the right to abortion. He also took aim at Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed Roe. Roe v. Wade rests on the argument that individuals have a right to privacy and that the right can be found in the 14th Amendment and in other amendments. Subsequent rulings that effect LGBTQIA+ rights, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision granting the right to same sex marriage, rests on a similar argument.