Gov. Lujan Grisham appoints new health secretary

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced the appointment of a new Department of Health secretary on Wednesday. 

In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was “thrilled to welcome” Dr. Tracie Collins as the New Mexico Department of Health secretary-designate.   

“New Mexico has never needed experienced and compassionate public health leadership more than right now,” Lujan Grisham said. “Dr. Collins will hit the ground running as part of our state’s COVID-19 response effort with the Department of Health and indeed all of state government.”

Collins is currently the dean of Population Health at the University of New Mexico and according to the governor’s office announcement has served in a variety of public health in the world of academia. 

Collins, in a statement through the governor’s office, said she is ready to start working with staff at the DOH to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is a very challenging time for all of us,” Collins said. “There is much work to be done to ensure the health and safety of New Mexicans. But I know the dedicated professionals of the Department of Health, and the many health care leaders throughout our state, are going to continue working tirelessly to address the needs of our diverse communities, both in this current crisis and beyond.”

Collins’ appointment comes months after former health secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced her retirement. The department’s legal counsel Billy Jimenez served as acting secretary after Kunkel left.

Federal investigation finds hospital violated patients’ rights by profiling, separating Native mothers and newborns

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A prominent women’s hospital here violated patients’ rights by singling out pregnant Native American women for COVID-19 testing and separating them from their newborns without adequate consent until test results became available, according to a federal investigation disclosed to New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica.

Lovelace Women’s Hospital did not admit to any wrongdoing but reported that the practice has been halted. Hospital officials submitted a plan to fix problems identified by investigators, including a promise to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance.

Indoor dining at restaurants nixed amid increase in cases, and more

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, citing an “untenable” increase in cases, brought back some restrictions beginning Monday, including saying that restaurants and breweries will not be able to have indoor service and restricting access to state parks to New Mexico residents only. But, she warned on Thursday, if things don’t improve, in-person schooling will not reopen this fall because it would not be safe for students, educators or other staff. This all came as the state sees its highest increase in cases, even higher than the first peak in May. The state has announced more than 200 cases of COVID-19 for over a week, and cases increased by 79 percent over the last 16 days. Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel said DOH has done 491 “rapid responses” for testing at places of employment since May 11. 

She also noted the long lines as people seek tests at places like Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, with some getting in line as early as 3 a.m.—causing those running the site to close down operations before 9 a.m. because so many people were in line.

A hospital was accused of racially profiling Native American women. Staff said administrators impeded an investigation.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal regulators are ramping up scrutiny of a prominent women’s hospital here after clinicians’ allegations that Native Americans had been racially profiled for extra COVID-19 screening, leading to the temporary separation of some mothers from their newborns.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will refer findings from state investigators about a violation of patient rights at Lovelace Women’s Hospital to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, state officials said. The state Department of Health declined to specify details of the violations it had found.

Breweries to reopen, but governor warns COVID-19 risks remain

On Thursday, the governor called the COVID-19 news over the last week a “mixed bag,” but did announce another slight reopening of the economy, allowing breweries to reopen on a limited basis beginning on Friday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said breweries would be able to take part in a “soft opening” on Friday, which would include outdoor and patio service, and expand to indoor service on Monday. The breweries would need to abide by COVID-safe precautions, similar to those in place for restaurants. The similarity with restaurants is one reason why the governor said breweries were free to reopen but bars would be open at a later date. Related: 121 additional cases and 10 additional related deaths due to COVID-19

No more than six people will be allowed at tables, while tables themselves will need to be distanced.

State starts planning to ease restrictions as curve flattens

New Mexico’s social and physical distancing is working in New Mexico overall, the “curve” has been flattened and the state is preparing plans to ease restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I want you to celebrate—in your house with your family,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. That was the optimistic news from the governor’s weekly COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Lujan Grisham cautioned that the work was not yet done, and said the state would extend its public health emergency order through May 15 in the coming days; it currently runs through April 30. Public health emergency orders can only be extended for 30 days at a time.

Guv says state will be part of White House COVID-19 pilot program

The governor announced during a press conference on Wednesday that the state would be working with the federal government on a pilot program related to contact tracing and surveillance related to tracking the spread of COVID-19. While she didn’t have specific details, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, “I felt really good about the fact that they recognized that we want to do that and we’d like to help the federal government attack that as a national strategy.”

Meanwhile, the state gave an update on a number of other areas, including on the spread of COVID-19 in the state, updates on testing and updates on more resources and supplies headed to the state. As for the pilot program, Lujan Grisham said she spoke to the White House, which said they were interested in working with New Mexico because of the work done by the state on testing and getting the medical system ready. “They want New Mexico to be a pilot for surveillance and research and what we call contact tracing,” Lujan Grisham said. “That’s finding out a more automated way and bringing in more workers to figure out who has been exposed.”

Lujan Grisham said she expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to be directly involved in the pilot, which would include several states.

Lujan Grisham gives update on COVID-19 response, preparations for ‘surge’

The state of New Mexico has statewide community spread of COVID-19, and continues to prepare for a surge in cases that can overwhelm hospitals.

That was part of a Thursday update on New Mexico’s response and plans for the spread of the coronavirus that has spread throughout the world, including in every state in the United States.

The state continued to urge residents to remain home as much as possible, emphasizing that social distancing will lower the seriousness of the peak and help avoid the worst of projections from state models from taking place in New Mexico.

Former congressional candidate Carol Miller tested positive for COVID-19

Former Independent and Green Party congressional candidate Carol Miller tested positive for COVID-19 more than 21 days ago. Miller ran for Congress as an Independent in 2008 and for the Green Party in a special election in 1997. Miller is 73, which puts her in a high-risk category. But she is asymptomatic. She hasn’t had any of the symptoms – no fever, cough or shortness of breath – of this type of coronavirus.

Governor, administration prepare for coronavirus ‘surge’

In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and cabinet officials outlined the state’s preparations for the expected “surge” in cases of COVID-19 in the upcoming weeks and the resulting hospitalizations, which will strain and even overwhelm the state’s health care systems, as it has in other areas of the country and world. And the state provided a stark update on how many New Mexicans could die, well above previous estimates. She said the state will make preparations to expand its hospital bed capacity, medical equipment and COVID-19 testing, while urging the public to practice socially distancing to keep the peak of cases as low as possible. Related: Guv’s public health order extended another month

What exactly that peak amount of cases looks like is something officials and experts have been considering as a way to prepare. 

A widely shared model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that the state will hit its peak amount of COVID-19 cases on May 2, which would require 1,594 hospital beds and 239 beds in intensive care units. The model predicts a total amount of 529 deaths from COVID-19 in New Mexico, with a peak of 16 daily COVID-19 deaths on April 29.