State announces new public health orders to protect PPE supply

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced two new public health orders from the state Department of Health Wednesday to protect the supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers in the state. The orders are necessary to try to slow the spread COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, according to the state. There has been a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers across the nation and many have taken to Twitter to plead for more. On Monday nurses held up signs in front of an Oakland hospital to protest the need for more personal protective equipment. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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Eight new positive COVID-19 cases, including first in southern and western New Mexico. Total is 43

With the state’s announcement of 43 people total who have tested positive for COVID-19, the virus has now been detected in southern and western New Mexico for the first time. The state announced eight new positive tests on Friday. Update (3/21): State DOH reports 14 new COVID-19 cases; total of 57

A male in his 20s tested positive in Doña Ana County and a male in his 30s tested positive in McKinley County, the first in those counties

 The other new cases include:

A female in Bernalillo County in her teensTwo males in Bernalillo County in their 40sA female in Sandoval County in her teensA male in Sandoval County in his 80sA female in Taos County in her 70s. Including the above newly reported cases, New Mexico has now had a total of 43 positive tests for COVID-19:

Bernalillo County: 23Doña Ana County: 1McKinley County: 1Sandoval County: 6San Miguel County: 1Santa Fe County: 7​​Socorro County: 2Taos County: 2

The state has processed 3,814 tests for COVID-19 as of Friday. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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Two new cases of COVID-19 brings state to 23 positive tests

Two new positive tests of COVID-19 have been found in New Mexico, increasing the number of overall cases to 23. The state Department of Health announced a man in his 50s in Taos County and a man in his 40s in Santa Fe County tested positive for COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus. Update (3/18): Five new cases of COVID-19, one case without a known link

This is the first positive test of COVID-19 in Taos County so far. Previous test positive cases have been in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Socorro and Santa Fe counties. Including the two cases from Tuesday morning, the positive tests are in:

Bernalillo County: 14​Sandoval County: 2​​Santa Fe County: 4​​​Socorro County: 2​Taos County: 1

The state says 1,272 people have been tested so far. 

The Department of Health is actively investigating the new cases, including contact-tracing and swabbing symptomatic individuals who have had contact with the positive cases, according to the news release.

UPDATE: NM DOH announces fifth and sixth positive COVID-19 tests

The New Mexico Department of Health announced its fifth and sixth presumptive possible cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a day after it announced the first four possible presumptive cases. 

The fifth case, announced in the morning, is a woman in her 40s in Bernalillo County. DOH is investigating a possible travel link. Thursday afternoon, the department announced a Santa Fe County woman in her 50s with known recent international travel to Italy tested positive. They are both at home in isolation. As with the other presumptive positive cases, the state is sending the results to the federal Centers for Disease Control confirmation.

Two contraception bills advance

A bill that would go beyond both the governor’s and Legislative Finance Committee’s appropriation recommendations for long-acting reversible contraceptive training to medical professionals passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee 4-2 Thursday. The vote fell along party lines for SB 40, which would provide $1.2 million from the general fund to the state Department of Health to mentor health care providers on long-acting reversible contraception. Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez of Albuquerque, Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos, Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces voted in favor. Republican Senators Candace Gould of Albuquerque and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho opposed the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was absent. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring this bill as well as another, SB 41, which provides $500,000 to the Department of Health to raise public awareness on long-acting reversible contraception.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session. There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session. Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.

Brief public hearing focused on cannabis testing standards, additional meeting scheduled

Snowy and icy roads Friday morning made for a short, and yet to be completed, public comment period for medical cannabis rule changes. 

New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program (MCP), which is run by the state Department of Health, convened a meeting for public comments on a number of proposed changes, including patient reciprocity, consumption areas and testing standards. The program’s director, Dominick Zurlo, began the meeting by announcing a second meeting to give those who could not make it due to the weather a chance to add input. Friday’s meeting was only about an hour long and comments largely focused on testing standards and mostly came from producers. 

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, told the MCP that the proposed microbiological, heavy metal and pesticide testing and labeling standards were problematic. 

“We feel like labeling is a very important component, but the labeling restrictions are simply unrealistic for what needs to go on a vast amount of products that are sold as medicine,” Lewinger said. 

Lewinger added that the increased amount of product producers are required to pull for testing would not only harm producers, but would increase costs to patients. 

Jennifer Merryman, from Mountaintop Extracts, agreed with Lewinger about testing sample sizes and suggested the MCP have more frequent and thorough conversations with those in the medical cannabis industry before proposing rules. 

“Perhaps we could add a little bit of local, New Mexico common sense,” Merryman said. “We’re all willing to work with you.”

Zurlo later invited those in the crowd to reach out to him with their concerns. 

Merryman told NM Political Report the proposed rules would significantly cut into the supply of smaller production companies. 

“Normally we send one and a half grams, sometimes [testing labs] will ask for two grams but not anymore than that per batch testing,” Merryman said. “Now, they’re looking to have a 23 gram sample per batch test.”

She said that standard would hurt small operations who have smaller yields. 

“That’s taking away product from that dispensary who has to compensate the loss of that money on to the patient,” Merryman said. 

Other producers also spoke about their concerns about labeling and testing standards and their common message was that increased sample sizes would ultimately equal higher prices for patients. 

What was almost non-existent in the meeting were the topics of patient reciprocity, producer fee structures and consumption areas.

The 2,500 plant dash: Medical cannabis producers prepare for expanded plant limit

The scramble to reach 2,500 has begun. More than a quarter of medical cannabis producers in New Mexico have already applied to increase their grow operations to 2,500 plants since the state announced, through an emergency rule change, it would allow plant increases a week ago. Of the 35 registered Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP), 12 applied to increase the number of their plants and nine said they they intend to grow the maximum number of plants. That could mean 26,000 plants across the state, not counting the plants grown by patients who grow their own cannabis with a Personal Production License. That’s about double what the Department of Health reported in production at the end of  2018.

DOH Sec: Cannabis producers can grow up to 2,500 plants, temporarily

New Mexico medical cannabis producers can have up to 2,500 plants at any given time—for now. In a late afternoon email, the state’s Medical Cannabis Program informed licensed producers it was enacting an emergency rule and increasing plant limits to five times the original amount. Read more about this:Despite court order, still no clarity on medical cannabis plant count

The abrupt change comes after months of litigation and a court order for the state to come up with a plant limit  backed by data. The program’s director Kenny Vigil addressed the judge’s decision and said a permanent rule will come within six months. “This is a temporary regulation that will be in place until DOH promulgates, within 180 days, a formal rule establishing plant count in the state pursuant to the rules of Judge Thomson’s order and commensurate with patient needs and anticipated increases in demand,” Vigil wrote in his email.

Despite court order, still no clarity on medical cannabis plant count

Today’s the day. The New Mexico Department of Health has run the clock on a court order to come up with a number, and a reason behind it, of how many medical cannabis plants can be grown in the state. Last year, a state district court judge gave the state’s Department of Health about four months to determine a maximum number of plants medical cannabis producers can have at any given time. And the judge ordered the department to back their decision up with data. The department asked for a last-minute extension from the court, which the judge denied.