During a weekly news conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about COVID-19, the governor covered the usual topics and encouraged people to stay home and wear masks.
But likely the biggest news was that Lujan Grisham has a date planned for a special legislative session.
“I’m happy to announce right now that the special session I will call, will be called for this coming Tuesday right before Thanksgiving,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve spent the last several days working with legislators, both chambers, both sides of the aisle, to work on those details.”
Lujan Grisham’s office announced last week that she planned on calling on legislators to meet and arrange for extra financial support for New Mexicans.
During this week’s news conference, Lujan Grisham said she wants to see $300 million from the New Mexico CARES Act go to unemployment benefits, housing grants and grants for small businesses that have been impacted by the public health order.
“We want to get this relief out to New Mexicans. They need unemployment, they need housing assistance and businesses need grants,” Lujan Grisham said. That gives us a day to get the processes well underway on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that the Monday when we get back we’re pushing money out the door. It’s critical that we do that.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, New Mexico is also seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during an online press conference on Thursday that the state is in “an extreme crisis” for the respiratory illness that has claimed the lives of over 235,000 nationwide and 1,082 in the state. And she said it is already too late to “prevent the pain that is coming to our first responders and our health care workers,” later this month. During Lujan Grisham’s press conference, state Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase likened the situation to what happened in Italy in March, when the hospital system in that country was so overwhelmed, hospital workers had to limit care. “We’re preparing institutions for an Italy-like situation over the next couple of weeks,” Scrase said. Lujan Grisham did not declare any new public health orders limiting travel or businesses, saying she wanted more time to look at the data.
If residents across the state do not change their behavior, hospitals will be so overwhelmed by mid-November from COVID-19 patients, hospitals will have to set up “MASH” like tents in parking lots and share ventilators between patients. The state’s Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase and two guests, Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer for Christus St. Vincent Health System in Santa Fe, said that during an online press conference Thursday. Thursday afternoon, after the press conference, the state reported a record number of new cases and another record number of hospitalizations for COVID-19. Mitchell said the state is at “a pivotal point.”
Related: Heads of NM hospitals: Now is the time for New Mexicans to buckle down
If the cases of COVID-19 continue to increase at the current rate, the number of needed hospital beds will rise above the state’s 439 ICU beds, Mitchell said.
Access issues plaguing the state could be exacerbating women’s cancer screenings difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American Cancer Society. Tim Tokarski, senior manager for development in New Mexico and El Paso for the American Cancer Society, told NM Political Report that the need to travel long distances to see a physician is an issue for people who need a breast cancer screening or other types of gynecological cancer screenings. “New Mexico has a tremendous amount of access issues,” Tokarski said. But, distance isn’t the only barrier to health care access, he said. “Geography and income and insurance and socioeconomic status” also pose barriers, he said.
Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer for women in New Mexico and cancer experts urge women to make appointments if they previously delayed mammograms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press conference on Thursday there was a “serious drop off in preventive services” in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And not all women who should be getting regular mammogram screenings this year have returned to see a health provider. “Stop delaying,” Scrase said. “If you are at high risk, schedule your screening today.”
Women are considered high risk if they have a family history of breast cancer or are over the age of 50.
The state announced 161 additional cases of COVID-19 Thursday and three additional related deaths. Three counties in the southeast – Chaves with 31; Eddy with 21; and Lea with 13 – reported double digit numbers Thursday. The other four counties that reported double digit numbers were Bernalillo with 27; Doña Ana with 17 and Santa Fe with 11. De Baca County reported its first case Thursday. During Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press conference Thursday, Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase praised the county.
A domestic worker and mother of four, Olga Santa lost her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her daughters, age 7, 11, 13 and 15, are all learning remotely this fall in Albuquerque and will continue to do so for some time; the Albuquerque Public Schools Board voted six to one in August to continue distance learning through the end of the fall semester.
Like other families, Santa is juggling the stress and challenges of her daughters’ remote learning during an unprecedented pandemic. That includes worrying that if her husband, who works in construction, tests positive for COVID-19, they have no backup plan. With Santa out of work, her husband’s paychecks must now stretch to cover all of their expenses. When he was sick this year due to allergies and kidney stones, he still had to appear at the construction site because the family couldn’t afford for him to take a day off.
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.
For the third day in a row, New Mexico saw more than 200 new cases of COVID-19, with double digit new cases also for the third day in a row coming from four counties: Bernalillo, McKinley, San Juan and Doña Ana. The New Mexico Department of Health announced 209 additional cases and two additional deaths related to COVID-19. The state tested 2,321 individuals Saturday. The total number of deaths reached 491 while the total number of test positive cases reached 11,619. These numbers come on a day in which national news media report that cases across the U.S. are on the rise and more than 2.5 million Americans have been infected by the disease.
New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase has said that the state would like to test around 5,000 a day.