NAACP officials keep wary eye on New Mexico data

A local advocacy group is keeping a watchful eye on equitable health care for African Americans during the pandemic. Pamelya Herndon, the first vice chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Albuquerque chapter, said the NAACP is not aware of discrimination against African-Americans during the pandemic in this state. But, the NAACP encouraged African-Americans to reach out to their local NAACP chapter if they experience prejudice during the public health emergency. One reason to worry is because African-Americans tend to have higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, which could put them at greater risk for mortality from COVID-19 related illness than whites. Herndon said she would like to see a plan put into place to better protect the African-American community, especially given the already present health disparities.

UNM researchers devise process for decontaminating PPE

A team of researchers at UNM established a set of protocols for decontaminating personal protective equipment that would be, under normal circumstances, disposable. The team, led by the UNM Center for Global Health director Douglas Perkins, will publish their findings on the preprint server for health sciences, MedRxiv.

Perkins told NM Political Report supply chain issues make securing protective gear a frequent problem at the pediatric ward of a rural government hospital in Kenya that he helps run.

New website connects volunteers who can help healthcare providers during pandemic

After seeing a need to support healthcare providers during the public health emergency, University of New Mexico medical student David Gangwish created a grassroots organization to help providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gangwish created Corona Care NM, which connects volunteers with healthcare providers. The volunteers help with childcare, pet sitting or household chores such as cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping while providers are working in hospitals during the pandemic. Gangwish, who will soon head for a residency in urology, said he got the idea because medical professionals were talking within the field about the problem of managing child care if the public schools closed. The Public Education Department moved to distance learning for the rest of spring semester last week.

Signs of rise in racism against Asians and Asian-Americans

People in the Asian community in Albuquerque say they have seen a rise in discrimination since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to Torri A. Jacobus, managing assistant city attorney for the City of Albuquerque Legal Department Office of Civil Rights, there has not been an increase in reported discrimination against Asians or Asian Americans since the public health emergency response to COVID-19 began. But Kay Bounkeua, executive director of New Mexico Asian Family Center, said that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Jacobus said through a written statement that the department is aware of a couple of incidents, one that happened to a student at the University of New Mexico and one that happened to an Albuquerque small business owner. Members of the Asian and Asian-American community met with Albuquerque’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, other officials and law enforcement to discuss what happened earlier this week. 

The student was the subject of a racist prank, according to KOB-TV.

Universities extend spring breaks in response to coronavirus

Note: This is a breaking story and may be updated with new information. Universities, including the two largest in the state, announced they will extend their spring breaks to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, that has become a global pandemic. University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes announced in a video that the university’s regularly scheduled spring break would extend through Sunday, April 5. Spring break was initially planned to begin March 15 and end on March 22. It will still begin on March 15.

UNM announces travel restrictions, other coronavirus plans

The University of New Mexico is banning most travel to areas impacted by the coronavirus, including all areas of the United States that have declared states of emergency over the growing pandemic. UNM President Garnett Stokes announced this in an email to UNM students and staff on Tuesday. The university is also discussing “everything from sick leave to how we can accommodate classes remotely if needed,” Stokes wrote. In addition, the email says UNM’s “clinical facilities are prepared to receive a patient with COVID-19.”

The university also outlined cases where they will ask students, staff or faculty to self-isolate for 14 days. This includes anyone who has come into contact with someone with a confirmed case of coronavirus or who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Guv gives state employees paid family leave, some hope to take it further

Some hope Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new executive order giving state employees 12 weeks off to care for a new child is a harbinger for the passage of a bill that would bring that benefit – and more – to all New Mexico employees. Lujan Grisham made her announcement earlier this week. Starting with the first day of 2020, all state employees are now eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child, whether a birth or an adoption. Leave must be taken within the first six months following the child’s arrival. If both parents work for the state, both parents are eligible for the leave.

UNM to reevaluate IPRA policy after NM Political Report complaint

The University of New Mexico is reevaluating its policy of charging for electronic copies of public records on a per-page basis in response to a reprimand from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. In an email to NM Political Report, the school’s Office of University Counsel said the UNM public records custodian is “evaluating the fee structure” for fulfilling requests of electronic records. Associate University Counsel Patrick Hart also wrote that the public records department will suspend the policy and practice of charging $0.38 a page for electronic records through the end of September. The change comes after the state Attorney General’s office issued a determination letter in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report. NM Political Report filed the complaint after the UNM’s Custodian of Public Records billed $0.38 a page for an electronic file that contained more than 1,600 pages.

UNM fees for public records violate law

The University of New Mexico violated state law when it didn’t properly fulfill records requests from NM Political Report, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office. A determination letter from Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp, in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report, cited two violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). In one instance, the university failed to provide records in the statutorily required amount of time. In another instance, the AG’s office determined that UNM violated state law by charging $0.38 per page to transfer more than 1,600 pages in a single electronic file. “Based on our review of the evidence and applicable laws, we conclude that the University’s proposed fees violated IPRA,” Kreienkamp wrote.

For contracts, New Mexico increasingly looks elsewhere: Analysis finds growing reliance on out-of-state vendors

Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed out of state since 2013 due to government purchases that are not filled — or cannot be filled — by New Mexico companies, a Searchlight New Mexico analysis finds. Over the past five years, 43 cents of every dollar the state paid companies and consultants went outside New Mexico’s borders, according to Searchlight’s analysis. That price tag stands at $3.2 billion and is growing. According to the state’s own data, spending on outside vendors grew faster than spending on in-state vendors over the past five years of Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration. That dynamic is unlikely to change without a significant overhaul of the state’s economy, according to several experts interviewed for this article.