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.

State orders restrictions on capacity of restaurants, bars (Updated)

All restaurants, bars, breweries, eateries and other food establishments in New Mexico will not be able to operate at more than 50 percent maximum occupancy or 50 percent of seating capacity. That is part of a change to the public health emergency the state ordered on Thursday, and a further restriction aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, in New Mexico. As of Sunday, 17 people in New Mexico had tested positive for COVID-19. The order by Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday. 

The order also says that tables and booths will not be able to seat more than six people and that all occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet. “The best thing New Mexicans can do right now is self-isolate and limit person-to-person contact,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

NM bans gatherings of 100 or more people

The state of New Mexico banned gatherings of more than 100 people in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. The order does not include the closure of public schools or other regular businesses, including offices and grocery stores along with several other exemptions. It instead aims at events that bring together 100 or more people in places like auditoriums, theaters, stadiums, arenas or conference centers. New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel issued the order Thursday a day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency. As of Thursday morning, the state reported four presumptive positive tests for COVID-19, all related to out-of-state travel. 

The full order is available below.

Lower profile cannabis bills headed for floor debates

With eight days left in the legislative session, passing a cannabis legalization bill is looking more and more like a long-shot. But there are three other bills related to cannabis and hemp that have been moving through committee assignments, some with little to no debate or opposition. 

The two cannabis legalization bills have stalled so far in both legislative chambers. The Senate version passed its first committee and is scheduled to be heard Wednesday afternoon in its second. The House version of legalization has yet to be heard in its first committee. Both bills are politically divisive and will likely be subjected to hours of public testimony and legislative debate.

Prescription drug importation bill passes Senate committee

Like many low-income seniors in New Mexico, Paul Gibson said, his mother-in-law struggles to pay for her prescription drugs. “She’ll parse out her medications in ways that make no sense; that undermine her health all the time,” Gibson, co-founder of the advocacy group Retake Our Democracy, told state lawmakers Friday. “Seniors should not face those kinds of decisions.” The state is taking steps to change that. Following the Trump administration’s announcement in December of proposed federal rules that would allow states to import prescription medications from Canada, New Mexico lawmakers and health officials are pushing legislation to initiate the process of bringing in Canadian drugs.

Medical cannabis qualified patient clarification bill breezes through committee

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. 

All but one member voted to approve Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s SB 139, which Ortiz y Pino said is an attempt to “clarify” that a qualified medical cannabis patient must be a resident of New Mexico. 

Up until last year, the statutory definition of a qualified patient included the words “resident of New Mexico.” Ortiz y Pino told the committee that one of his bills last year struck those words and replaced them with “person.” He also told the panel that his intention was to establish a path towards reciprocity with other medical cannabis states.  

“Not being a lawyer, I don’t understand how that wasn’t clear,” he said. Ortiz y Pino’s bill last year, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law, had a separate definition for reciprocal patients. Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel helped to present the bill and answer questions. She told the committee that one of her bigger concerns, other than having enough medical cannabis for New Mexico patients, is that residents of Texas are getting New Mexico cannabis patient cards and taking cannabis across state lines, which is against federal law. 

“We have now essentially given license to non residents to transport a controlled substance across our state borders,” Kunkel told the committee. 

Kunkel said there are currently more than 600 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program who are residents of other states and one person from Mexico with a pending application. For context, there are about a dozen counties in the state with fewer patients.