A fourth straight day of more than 200 cases of COVID-19 Saturday

For the fourth day in a row the state announced more than 200 cases of COVID-19. The state Department of Health reported 206 cases Saturday of the disease and five additional deaths related to the respiratory illness. DOH has now found 28,692 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.The number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 is now at 870. The state provided only the minimal information listed below regarding the deceased on Saturday:

A male in his 80s from Chaves County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Curry County who was hospitalized.A male in his 60s from McKinley County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Sandoval County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Rio Rancho Center facility.A female in her 50s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There were seven counties that reported double digit numbers Saturday.

100 new cases and 3 additional deaths related to COVID-19

On Saturday, the state Department of Health announced 100 additional cases of COVID-19 and three additional related deaths. Doña Ana County had the highest increase in cases, with 19. The other counties with double digit numbers were Bernalillo, with 14 additional cases, and Chaves, with 11 additional cases. The three additional mortalities were all men. One male in his 60s had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions and was a resident of Camino Healthcare in Albuquerque.

DOH: 139 new cases and two deaths related to COVID-19

The state Department of Health reported 139 additional cases of COVID-19 and two new related deaths to the disease Saturday. The two deaths were both Bernalillo County residents. One was a male in his 50s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. He was a resident of Las Palomas Center. The other mortality was a female in her 80s and she was a resident of Spanish Trails Rehabilitation Suites.

Speakers tout NM’s climate leadership, but are quiet on oil and gas production

A group of local leaders touted New Mexico’s work towards addressing climate change during a recent webinar on public health and climate change. But speakers such as Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, and New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Kathyleen Kunkel tip-toed around the state’s recent record oil production and its contribution to climate change. Fossil fuel combustion is the chief driver of carbon dioxide emissions that are causing climate change. While many states have begun transitioning to renewable energy sources to replace coal, oil and natural gas, New Mexico is the only state to adopt a 100 percent clean energy mandate while also producing record levels of oil. 

“For the [Gov. Michelle] Lujan Grisham administration, environmental issues are public health priorities,” Kunkel said in her remarks, adding that DOH is part of the governor’s climate change task force.

Uptick in cases after decline

After a decline in case numbers, the state reported an uptick in COVID-19 with 205 new cases Wednesday. DOH also announced five additional deaths Wednesday, which brings the mortalities related to COVID-19 to 755. One of those deaths was a man in his 100s from Sandoval County. He had underlying conditions and was a resident of Rio Rancho Center.  The following is the information DOH provided on the other four mortalities:

A female in her 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Las Palomas Center in Albuquerque.A female in her 40s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Sandoval County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Rio Rancho Center in Rio Rancho.

Questions on COVID-19 among migrant detainees

When the state Department of Health reported a two-day spike in COVID-19 at Cibola County Correctional Center late last month, activists and lawyers who work with detained migrants didn’t know how many had tested positive. The Milan facility, run by a private company called CoreCivic, also houses federal prisoners under U.S. Marshals Service, as well as county prisoners. “We have one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world,” said Rebekah Entralgo, media advocacy specialist for the California organization Freedom for Immigrants which works with detainees. And she said by phone that the private companies that run detention centers “thrive off secrecy.”

Allegra Love, executive director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which provides free legal services to immigrants, said her impression is that the migrant population at the Cibola facility is “low.”

“That information is almost impossible to get and CoreCivic isn’t compelled to tell us daily count numbers,” Love said. New Mexico’s congressional delegation sent a letter to CoreCivic last week because of the recent spike in COVID-19 at the multi-use detention center.

255 new COVID-19 cases in NM including uptick in McKinley County

The state Department of Health announced Thursday 255 additional COVID-19 cases which includes a new uptick in cases in McKinley County. McKinley County, which has grappled with one of the highest numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the state, had eight cases Wednesday and low double digit numbers Monday and Tuesday but the county had 35 additional cases Thursday. Only Bernalillo County, with 63 new cases, had a higher total, but Bernalillo County has a population that is nearly 10 times larger. The newly confirmed cases represented 3.6 percent of the 7,026 tests processed since Wednesday. Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a press conference Thursday that the state aimed to keep that number below 5 percent, while Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hoped it could drop below 3 percent.

Another medical cannabis company joins in legal action against the state

A second medical cannabis company has filed a petition asking a state district judge to invalidate rules recently enacted by the New Mexico Department of Health. 

Pecos Valley Production, a medical cannabis company with dispensaries in the southern part of the state, filed a petition Monday in state district court calling for an annulment of regulatory rules that lawyers for the company called “arbitrary and capricious.”

The petition from Pecos Valley argues similar points as one filed last week, on behalf of cannabis producer and manufacturer Ultra Health. Both petitions are filed under the same case. Lawyers for Ultra Health, one of which is Brian Egolf, who also serves as the state’s Speaker of the House, argued that the Medical Cannabis Program and the DOH failed to show reasoning for new rules. Ultra Health’s lawyers also accused the state of copying regulations from other states that have a medical cannabis program like Oregon and Colorado. 

The petition from Pecos Valley Production also accused the state of adopting rules from other states instead of properly consulting with medical cannabis producers in New Mexico. “These industry participants are well versed in the day-to-day operations of the New Mexico medical cannabis industry and therefore are more likely to provide relevant New Mexico specific evidence than the standards cut and pasted from other states,” the second petition reads.

NM cannabis producer challenges new DOH rules

A high-profile medical cannabis producer filed a petition in a state district court last week, asking a judge to invalidate rules recently put in place by the New Mexico Department of Health. 

In the petition, lawyers for cannabis producer Ultra Health argued that many of the recently adopted rules regarding plant and product testing, product labels and facility safety standards are “arbitrary and capricious.”

Last year, the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, which is part of the DOH, started the rule change process with a series of public meetings, which carried over to early this year. The rules, which range from pesticide and chemical testing to reciprocity for already approved cannabis patients from other states, went into effect earlier this month. But Ultra Health’s petition focuses on the new standards for producers, some of which the petition says would increase the financial burdens for patients. 

“Producers, who already pay well over $100,000 per year for their license and are precluded by federal law from taking any income tax deductions, will have to pay for the increased testing burden and will pass along the costs to patients,” the petition reads. 

A DOH spokesman wouldn’t say if or when the department would respond to the request to annul the new rules. 

“The Department of Health does not comment on pending litigation,” DOH spokesman David Morgan said. 

Arguably a perennial thorn in the side of the department, Ultra Health and its CEO Duke Rodriguez have filed numerous legal actions against the state over issues like the legality of displaying a cannabis plant at the state fair and increasing the number of plants producers can grow. Brian Egolf, who also serves as the state’s speaker of the House, is one of two lawyers who filed the petition.  

Testing and labels 

The new rules from the DOH spell out specific standards for testing plants for fungus, pesticides and heavy metals. But in the petition, Ultra Health’s lawyers argued that the department failed to show evidence that the safe level of contaminants is based on studies or science.  

“While Petitioner Ultra Health agrees that some testing is necessary to protect the safety of cannabis patients, DOH’s rules do not draw the necessary connection between the arbitrarily chosen testing parameters and specific measurements of patient safety,” the petition states. 

The petition also asserts that the DOH simply copied regulations from other states like Colorado and Oregon, where both medical and recreational-use cannabis are legal.

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.