161 additional cases of COVID-19 and three additional related deaths

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.

Some raise concerns about out-of-state, reciprocal patients in the time of COVID-19

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic the New Mexico Department of Health approved rules that put into practice a state law allowing medical cannabis patients from other states to buy, possess and use medical cannabis in New Mexico. 

The law was passed in 2019 as part of a massive statutory change for medical cannabis. That law also included a separate provision that many have argued would have allowed non-residents of New Mexico to become a New Mexico medical cannabis patient. 

But in 2020 lawmakers, backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the DOH, passed a law that made sure that only those who were medical cannabis patients in other states already could qualify for New Mexico’s program. 

They argued that allowing people from nearby states without a medical cannabis program to enroll in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program could invite unwanted federal scrutiny. Through legislative debate and public testimony, legislators and public health officials argued that the reciprocity provision in the 2019 law would be adequate enough to provide medicine to non-resident, medical cannabis patients spending time in New Mexico and would provide enough legitimacy to keep the federal government from intervening. 

But even now that the law reverted to only allow New Mexico residents and those already enrolled in a medical cannabis program to buy, possess and use it in the state, there seems to be a loophole of sorts that may allow exactly what the governor and state officials warned against. In 2019, the New Mexico Legislature approved a massive overhaul to the state’s medical cannabis law. The changes included protection from being fired from a job or losing parental custody just for being a medical cannabis patient.

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.

DOH warns of fake mask ‘exemption’ cards

The New Mexico Department of Health says that “counterfeit” face covering exemption cards in Santa Fe County are not distributed by the state of New Mexico or the U.S. government as claimed on the cards. 

The state mandates face coverings for those in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The department warns that those who create or use these cards could face a fourth degree felony. “People lying about a medical condition to get out of wearing a facemask literally puts their lives and that of those around them at risk,” DOH Secretary Kathy Kunkel said. “New Mexicans deserve to feel safe out in public, and fraudulent messaging like this is both illegal and potentially dangerous to people’s health.”

The cards say they are issued by the DOH and the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a release sent on Wednesday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and health officials have repeatedly said that wearing face masks is one of the key ways New Mexicans can slow the spread of COVID-19 and help New Mexico reopen more sectors of its economy. 

New Mexico is one of 34 states, plus the District of Columbia, with some form of face covering mandate in public. 

Texas requires masks in public in counties with more than 20 cases; nearly all counties that border New Mexico have at least 20 cases.

New group of petitioners challenging NM DOH medical cannabis rules

The list of medical cannabis companies filing legal complaints against the New Mexico Department of Health continues to grow. 

This week, two more medical cannabis producers, a cannabis manufacturer, a cannabis testing laboratory and a patient licensed to grow medical cannabis filed petitions in state district court asking a judge to annul rules adopted by the DOH earlier this month. That’s in addition to the two other medical cannabis producers who filed petitions against the state last week. 

Also notable is the list of attorneys representing the medical cannabis companies, as it includes two current legislators, a former commissioner with the state’s Public Regulation Commission, a former attorney general candidate and a former congressional candidate, all from across the state’s political spectrum. 

Medical cannabis producer Ultra Health was the first company to file a petition last week and is represented in part by Brian Egolf, a Democrat who also serves as the state’s Speaker of the House. On Tuesday, former PRC commissioner Jason Marks, also a Democrat, filed a separate petition on behalf of his clients, Scepter Lab, one of two testing laboratories in the state, and medical cannabis manufacturer Vitality Extracts. 

Then on Thursday, Jacob Candelaria, who serves as a Democratic state senator, filed a petition on behalf of medical cannabis producer and manufacturer G&G Genetics. Also joining the initial case on Thursday was medical cannabis patient and licensed cannabis grower Heath Grider, represented by former Libertarian attorney general candidate Blair Dunn and Jared Vander Dussen, who recently lost in a three-way primary for the Republican nomination in New Mexico’s First Congressional District. 

All of the petitioners are asking for generally the same thing: for a judge to invalidate rules recently promulgated by the Department of Health, which oversees the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. 

The new petitioners, like the initial petitioners, argue that many of the new rules regarding cannabis testing, labeling and growing are “arbitrary and capricious.”

But the new petitioners are also adding to the list of concerns.  

Increased testing, increased prices

Marks, who is representing Scepter Lab and Vitality Extracts in a case of their own, argued in his petition that the department’s new testing standards are not based on actual data or research, but instead based on language borrowed from other states — particularly states with less arid climates that New Mexico. 

One of the new rules is that medical cannabis must be tested for mycotoxins or naturally occurring toxic substances that come from certain types of fungi. 

Marks argued that out of more than 15,000 tests conducted in New Mexico since the rule was implemented, none came back positive for mycotoxins. 

He added that tests for mycotoxin testing on a national level produced a relatively small amount of positives but that those results were likely from “climates more likely to lead to mycotoxin production than New Mexico’s.”

Marks also argued that testing standards for heavy metals and pesticides were not based on true research. Heavy metals, Marks wrote, are only introduced through soil and water and that testing water systems and soil used to grow medical cannabis would be the better way to detect heavy metals.

COVID-19 cases continue to grow around the state

For 11 straight days, New Mexico health officials have reported more than 200 cases of COVID-19. The New Mexico Department of Health reported on Sunday the state has 262 new cases with Bernalillo County reporting nearly half of that at 111 additional cases. The other counties consistently reporting double digit new cases are Doña Ana, at 32; San Juan with 24; and McKinley with 20. Sandoval County, just north of Bernalillo County, also reported double digit numbers Sunday with 17. The new cases brought the state’s total to 15,028.

State not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county jails

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise within state-run detention centers across New Mexico, namely in Otero County, the numbers for county jails often go overlooked by the general public. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office reports the number of positive cases within state and federal detention centers daily. Her office also includes the number of congregate care facilities that have seen positive tests in the last 28 days. But those daily reports do not include any information on the roughly half a dozen county jails around the state. 

According to the state Department of Health, those numbers are purposefully left out of daily reports because state officials think they would add more confusion than clarification. 

During a news conference on Wednesday, NM Political Report asked Lujan Grisham why the state was not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county detention centers. She said even though the state is collecting those numbers they are not released in daily updates from her office. Without clarifying the reason for not including those numbers in the updates, she said the data is there. 

“We know by zip code, we know by, often, occupation, we know by correctional facility, we know whether it’s staff or it’s an inmate, whether in a nursing home, whether it’s staff or a resident, we are and we continue to refine getting the data,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Immediately after the news conference, NM Political Report requested that data from Lujan Grisham’s office, but was told by a DOH spokesman that any request for county detention center data would need to be requested from the counties themselves. 

David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the information would have to come from the counties that oversee each regional detention center and would likely require an official records request pursuant to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).

A hospital’s secret coronavirus policy separated Native American mothers from their newborns

Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque implemented a secretive policy in recent months to conduct special coronavirus screenings for pregnant women, based on whether they appeared to be Native American, even if they had no symptoms or were otherwise at low risk for the disease, according to clinicians.

The hospital screens all arriving patients for COVID-19 with temperature checks and asks them whether they’ve been in contact with people who have the illness. But for soon-to-be moms who appeared to be Native American, there was an additional step, according to clinicians interviewed on the condition they not be named.

‘We’re sitting ducks.’ As coronavirus swept through a halfway house, state officials reported nothing.

ALBUQUERQUE — At least 25 residents of one of New Mexico’s largest halfway houses have tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak happened at Diersen Charities in Albuquerque, which houses inmates on their way out of the federal prison system and some who are on federal probation. The facility has enough beds to accommodate more than 100 men and women. “We’re sitting ducks,” said one resident, who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. He described a living situation not unlike a prison, with dozens of metal-frame bunk beds stacked a few feet apart.

97 new test positive cases of COVID-19; total nears 6,000

The state Department of Health announced New Mexico has 97 additional test positive cases of COVID-19 and six additional related deaths. Of the 97 new cases, 61 were in one of three counties: McKinley, Sandoval and San Juan. Those three counties are home to some of New Mexico’s tribal lands, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.The state said the results were partial because of a technical problem with private labs and that full results would be available on Monday. Sunday’s announcement brought the total number of positive tests in New Mexico 5,938 test positive cases and 265 COVID-19-related deaths.The state has processed 133,253 tests, according to the New Mexico DOH website. That is an increase of 4,679 since Saturday.