Hospital capacity a looming problem amid COVID-19 surge, and restaurants have to get COVID-safe certified

“The state of New Mexico last week experienced its worst week for COVID-19 infections throughout the duration of the pandemic,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference on Tuesday with other state officials. She also acknowledged troubling patterns when it came to hospitalizations. Because of this, she announced further restrictions on businesses, including restaurants, beginning on Friday. But she did not put a stop to indoor dining—as long as restaurants complete the state’s COVID-safe certification program. Restaurants that complete the online program will be able to continue serving 25 percent of maximum capacity of indoor patrons, along with outdoor service.

Lujan Grisham: Fight COVID-19 with a vengeance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase both offered up their own metaphors for the drastic increase of COVID-19 cases and how the state can lower that number. 

“We’re in it for another nine months or longer, it is a marathon, I need everyone to stop at that marathon stand, this is not literally, figuratively,” Lujan Grisham said, citing health officials who said a COVID-19 vaccine may not be ready and widely available until next year. “Take that sip of water and just keep doing the work that you’re doing. Because if we don’t, we don’t even get to have conversations about schools and kids.”

Scrase likened the record number of COVID-19 cases in the state to a car on ice. “We can slam on the brakes today, and I hope we will slam on the brakes as individual citizens and families and communities in terms of COVID-safe practices, but it’s going to take two weeks for the car to stop because people who are already infected will develop symptoms,” he said. Both Lujan Grisham and Scrase’s analogies were in reference to several days of significantly higher numbers of new cases, even than the previous peak in cases in the state this summer.

WATCH: Lujan Grisham’s 10/15 COVID-19 press conference

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials held a press conference on Thursday afternoon and provide an update on COVID-19 in the state as the number of cases increases at record rates. Watch the entire press conference below, courtesy of the governor’s Facebook page. Update: Lujan Grisham: Fight COVID-19 with a vengeance

Update: State rockets past single-day COVID-19 case total—for second day in a row

Spending unmasked: How NM overpaid $330,000 for face masks and the corrections department profited

How’s this for a business plan? Buy hundreds of thousands of cloth face masks, mark up the prices and sell them to a bunch of state agencies for a tidy profit. That’s what New Mexico’s prison system did earlier this year during the state’s scramble to purchase supplies to protect against the spread of COVID-19, a review of state records shows. The New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) bought 371,000 cloth masks and sold them to at least a dozen other government agencies, making a minimum of $330,000 on the deals, according to state purchasing documents. Those funds were taxpayer dollars, and some came from New Mexico’s limited allotment of federal stimulus money, chipping away at the state’s resources to respond to the pandemic.

Lujan Grisham warns of possible ‘uncontrollable spread’ of COVID-19

Speaking from the governor’s residence because of a quarantine due to a possible COVID-19 exposure, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that New Mexico is “at extreme risk of uncontrollable spread” of the disease as cases continue to increase throughout New Mexico. Lujan Grisham said both she and her fiancé tested negative for COVID-19 on Wednesday for a second time, though they would remain quarantined for a full two weeks, in accordance with state health officials’ guidance. “When you have uncontrollable spread, where we can’t manage the outbreaks, you become quickly a potential epicenter for the country and you overwhelm your healthcare workers, your hospital services and we have far more, many more, deaths and our mortality rates just keep rising,” Lujan Grisham said. She urged New Mexicans to abide by COVID-safe practices and emphasized staying away from large gatherings and avoiding leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. While she did not make any changes to the state’s public health order, which will expire next weekend, she did say that things like K-12 sports and club sports remain prohibited, except for limited practices with groups of ten or fewer individuals with no contact.

Half of NM voters approve of Lujan Grisham’s job performance, most disapprove of Trump’s

Half of New Mexico voters approve of the job Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing overall, with a higher rating on her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, while most don’t approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance. This is according to the Public Policy Polling poll commissioned by NM Political Report. The poll showed that 50 percent of New Mexico voters approve of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s job performance and 42 percent disapprove. The number of those who disapprove increased by nine points since NM Political Report’s June poll, while the number of those who approve dropped by two. However, Lujan Grisham gets higher marks for how she has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Lujan Grisham self-quarantining after possible COVID-19 contact

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Monday that she is self-quarantining and will work remotely after a possible exposure to someone with COVID-19, though her office said she tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday and has exhibited no symptoms of the virus. A press release from the governor’s office said that a member of the custodial staff at the governor’s residence—who did not come into personal contact with the governor—reported feeling unwell last Thursday. All 37 people who were either staff members at the residence—members of the governor’s security detail or staff members at the Governor’s Office and administrative staff—also tested negative for COVID-19 in tests administered either Friday or this weekend. Lujan Grisham’s fiancé, Manny Cordova, also tested negative and shows no symptoms of COVID-19. The governor and the other possible contacts will receive an additional COVID-19 test on Wednesday, the office said.

NM public safety secretary ‘dismissed’ by governor

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office confirmed Friday that the state’s head of public safety was “dismissed.”

The news site Northern New Mexico Independent first reported that Lujan Grisham fired Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea. In response to the report that Shea notified his, now former, employees in an email, NM Political Report inquired with the governor’s office for further confirmation. 

Lujan Grisham’s office did not reply specifically to the request, but it did release a statement saying the Lujan Grisham administration “is taking the opportunity of a leadership change to strengthen the mission of the Department of Public Safety to deliver vigorous and smart-on-crime statewide law enforcement, with a renewed emphasis on community police work and the unequivocal protection of New Mexicans’ civil rights.”

“I want to thank Secretary Shea for his service to the state,” Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Public Safety plays an essential role. Our employees and officers are duty-bound to equitably protect and dutifully serve New Mexicans, and I am confident they will continue to meet and exceed the expectation of communities all across the state.”

In its announcement, the governor’s office said New Mexico State Police (NMSP) Chief Tim Johnson will serve as interim secretary while the state looks for Shea’s permanent replacement. NMSP Deputy Chief Robert Thorton will take on the role of interim state police chief, according to the announcement. 

Shea’s employment termination comes during a time of both local and national calls for reforms of police departments and civil rights laws.

WATCH: Gov. Lujan Grisham’s COVID-19 press conference

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was joined by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver Thursday afternoon to discuss the state’s COVID-19 response as well as the preparations for this year’s general elections. The full video of the press conference is available below. Read the recap here.

Reactions from New Mexico officials to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday. She was 87. The vacancy her seat creates will now give Republicans the opportunity to try to place another conservative justice to the bench. President Donald Trump, reacting to two Supreme Court decisions in June that he didn’t like, tweeted that he would have a new list of conservatives to appoint to the bench by September 1. Within just a few hours of the announcement of Ginsburg’s death, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not wait to bring to a vote for a Trump appointee this election year, according to multiple media sources.