Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. The Indian Health Service acknowledged on Wednesday that 1 million respirator masks it purchased from a former Trump White House official do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards for “use in healthcare settings by health care providers.”

The IHS statement calls into question why the agency purchased expensive medical gear that it now cannot use as intended. The masks were purchased as part of a frantic agency push to supply Navajo hospitals with desperately needed protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals.

The feds gave a former White House official $3 million to supply masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some may not work.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience. The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use.

Trump hasn’t released funds that help families of COVID-19 victims pay for burials. Members of Congress want to change that.

Democratic members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump to authorize FEMA to reimburse funeral expenses for victims of the coronavirus pandemic, citing ProPublica’s reporting about the administration’s policies.

A conservative legal group significantly miscalculated data in a report on mail-in voting

In an April report that warns of the risks of fraud in mail-in voting, a conservative legal group significantly inflated a key statistic, a ProPublica analysis found. The Public Interest Legal Foundation reported that more than 1 million ballots sent out to voters in 2018 were returned as undeliverable. Taken at face value, that would represent a 91% increase over the number of undeliverable mail ballots in 2016, a sign that a vote-by-mail system would be a “catastrophe” for elections, the group argued.

Lujan Grisham: Trump welcome in NM if he follows CDC protocol

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that she would support President Donald Trump traveling to New Mexico—if he follows CDC protocol and brings needed equipment to the state. Lujan Grisham said this during a press conference on Thursday when asked about Trump’s proposed trip to Arizona next week. “I will welcome President Trump with open arms to New Mexico if he is masked, is wearing gloves for anything that we are going to attend, there are no mass gatherings or rallies and he is bringing Air Force One with the supplies that we need in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said. Trump has said he would not wear a mask, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people in the United States wear masks while in public. The state of New Mexico also recommends that all people in the state wear masks while in public, and Lujan Grisham, her cabinet members and staff wear masks during press conferences, though take them off to speak  so their voices are not muffled.

GOP candidates question opponents’ loyalty to Trump

Former T.V. meteorologist and Republican primary candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Ronchetti found himself in hot water with his opponents this week. Already a target for some local conservatives, Ronchetti now has to explain comments he made during a presentation on climate change at the University of New Mexico last year that seemed to be a criticism of President Donald Trump. “I’m a Christain conservative, who used to be a Republican, until the orange one,” Ronchetti said, invoking laughter from the crowd. “I’m afraid that has taken a part of my soul and that’s not coming back.”

Ronchetti did not respond to a request for an interview, but his campaign manager told the Albuquerque Journal that the comments were in jest and that he does indeed support the president. But his opponents, namely the one who said he found the video clip, are not buying it. 

Gavin Clarkson, a former Trump appointee and one of Ronchetti’s opponents, said he thinks “Support for Trump is a baseline qualification for the GOP.”

“If you’re going to say, ‘I support the president,’ prove it,” Clarkson told NM Political Report. 

Clarkson said he found the video while searching online to back up his claim that Ronchetti’s previous public views on climate change differ from Trump’s. 

“He spent the next 45 minutes to an hour talking about policies that this president doesn’t support,” Clarkson added. 

But this week’s claims that Ronchetti wavers in his support for the White House are not the first for him or for other GOP candidates in the state.

Poll: Most New Mexicans approve of Lujan Grisham’s COVID-19 response

A new poll showed that a majority of New Mexicans approve of the way Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is handling the COVID-19 crisis. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling for The Majority Institute, a progressive organization, showed that 62 percent of New Mexicans approve of how she is handling the  pandemic, compared to 26 percent who disapprove. 

The approval is much higher than that of President Donald Trump; the poll found that 40 percent of New Mexicans approved of how he is handling the COVID-19 crisis, compared to 55 percent who disapprove. Lujan Grisham took action earlier than many governors, and aggressively sought to expand testing capacity in the state. The New York Times wrote a profile about New Mexico’s response and how it has avoided overwhelming the health care system in the state. Still, Republicans have criticized the stay-at-home order.

Abbott’s fast COVID test poses safety issues, lab workers say

Lab personnel say worries are mounting over the safety of a rapid coronavirus test by Abbott Laboratories that President Donald Trump has repeatedly lauded ― particularly, the risk of infection to those handling it. Trump and federal health officials have promoted the ease with which the Abbott test can be given to patients, whether at a drive-thru site or a doctor’s office. Another selling point: The test could “save personal protective equipment (PPE),” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet medical workers say that there’s a serious danger in the test’s design, one that would require much more protection — not less ― for those who administer it. Running a test involves swabbing a potentially infected person’s nasal passage and swirling the specimen in an open container with liquid chemicals, raising the potential of releasing the highly contagious virus into the air.

Udall, other Senators want investigations over Trump administration’s COVID-19 response

The letter said that states around the country, including New Mexico, face shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and says that a cohesive, national strategy is needed to allocate the equipment where it is needed.

The federal government had a stockpile of PPE and other medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The Trump administration moved oversight of the stockpile from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Health and Human Services Department, under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in 2018. FEMA is in charge of distribution during a national emergency.

A grassroots organization goes digital to encourage filling out the census

One grassroots organization has turned to digital outreach and phone banking to encourage residents, especially those who are hard to reach, to fill out the 2020 census and be counted. But that wasn’t part of the original plan. Advocates for migrants, Indigenous, people of color and low income communities have said that having everyone count in the 2020 census is important. Felipe Rodriguez, a campaign manager for the grassroots organization New Mexico Dream Team, said that if just one percent of residents don’t fill out the census form this year, the state could lose hundreds of millions in federal funds over the next ten-year period. “That’s a lot of money,” Rodriguez said.