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Coronavirus updates, March 17

Editor’s note: This post includes Tuesday updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state. For the Journal’s extended coverage of this rapidly evolving story: Coronavirus in New Mexico.


Yesterday’s updates: Coronavirus updates, March 16


7:07 p.m.
Screening begins for homeless population in Albuquerque

Santana Marquez, left and Brittany Vickrey perform pre-symptomatic screening of Michael Duchene at Coronado Park before the homeless man boards the bus to head to the Westside Emergency Housing Center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

On Tuesday evening, the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps began screening people for COVID-19 before they get on the bus to the Westside Emergency Housing Center.

Lisa Huval, the deputy director of the city’s housing and homelessness efforts, said the screenings are taking place at the pick-up locations at Coronado Park north of Downtown, God’s Warehouse on East Central, and Steelbridge a facility in Northwest Albuquerque.

She told the Journal on Saturday that anyone wishing to go to the Westside Center 20 miles outside of town will be asked if they have recently traveled, if they have had contact with anyone with COVID-19 or if they are experiencing a cough, fever or shortness of breath. She said everyone’s temperature will also be taken.

If a person answers one of the questions yes, they will be transported in a separate van driven by a driver who is wearing protective equipment.

Once they get to the shelter, Huval said, they will be held in a separate area until they can be tested and the results returned.

If they test positive for COVID-19, Huval said, they will be kept in an isolation unit with other patients until they have recovered or the quarantine period is over.

The Westside Center is now open 24-hours a day so staff will also conduct screenings twice a day at the facility.

— Elise Kaplan


6:38 p.m.
City announces new changes, suspensions

The city of Albuquerque has announced some additional service changes and suspensions:

-All city senior, multigenerational and 50-plus fitness centers are closed; however the following locations will distribute to-go lunches from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Barelas Senior Center, Los Volcanes Senior Center, Manzano Mesa Multigenerational Center, North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center, North Valley Senior Center.

-Due to current closures, libraries are extending due dates. Materials due March 14 to April 15 are now due April 22. Any current holds considered “ready for pickup” will be available for a week following the libraries’ reopening.

-The city is waiving fees at the Elena Gallegos Open Space and Boca Negra Canyon
-ABQ Ride has halted all city bus routes that serve the New Mexico Rail Runner since the train is not currently running.

-The city’s Small Business, Economic Development and Film offices have stopped in-person service but are still available by calling 768-3270

Additional information and updates are available at: https://www.cabq.gov/news/coronavirus-impacts-on-city-services

— Jessica Dyer


6:06 p.m.
Lovelace, Vitalant holding blood drive Wednesday morning

Lovelace Medical Center and Vitalant are holding a blood drive Wednesday morning into the afternoon amidst a shortage of blood donations in the region following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the recent self-quarantine measures in our state, our blood supply has decreased and we are encouraging all citizens who are able to donate,” Whitney Marquez, a Lovelace spokeswoman, said. “In order to maintain social distancing guidelines, donors will wait in their car and receive a text notification when it is their turn to donate.”

The blood drive will be held from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Longfellow Elementary School, at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue and Walter Street. Marquez said all blood donated will stay in New Mexico.

To donate please call 505.727.2700 to reserve a time and complete a brief screening questionnaire.

— Matt Reisen


5:49 p.m.
Udall: Senate needs to pass coronavirus response package

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall voiced frustration Tuesday over the Senate’s delay in taking up coronavirus relief legislation passed by the House on Saturday and backed by the White House.

“This should have passed a long time ago,” Udall said during a press call with members of the New Mexico media.

Read more >>

— Scott Turner


4:59 p.m.
Sky City Casino Hotel to close temporarily

All of Acoma Business Enterprises entities including Sky City Casino Hotel on Acoma Pueblo will close for the next 30 days, according to an email sent to the Journal.

– Rozanna Martinez


3:55 p.m.
ACLU: Albuquerque’s emergency powers law may be an ‘overreach’

The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says Albuquerque’s newly approved emergency powers ordinance may be an “overreach.”

In a statement Tuesday, the ACLU of New Mexico said legislation the Albuquerque City Council passed Monday night is too vague, particularly in defining a “public health emergency” and a “reasonable threat,” which the organization said could allow the city’s mayor to invoke “sweeping powers to shut down businesses and ban people from public spaces in response, for example, to a common flu outbreak.” It also raised concern with the extent of the mayor’s new powers.

Read more >>

— Jessica Dyer


3:48 p.m.
High Court suspends most criminal jury trials through April 30

New Mexico’s Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday suspending criminal jury trials through the end of April and encouraging judges to, when possible, conduct court hearings via phone and video.

It also requires that all visitors be asked screening questions before they are allowed entry into a courthouse.

The order comes amid letters from prosecutors and defense attorneys alike asking justices to do more to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s jails and criminal courtrooms.

Read more >>Read more >>

— Katy Barnitz


3:06 p.m.
Cibola National Forest to remain open

The Cibola National Forest is still open for public visitation, Forest Supervisor Steve Hattenbach said Tuesday.

“We will continue to provide services to the public where we can do so consistent with federal and state guidance to protect our employees and the public,” he said.

At this time of year most of the campgrounds are seasonally closed, but the Cibola National Forest has many day use sites, trailheads and trails open for public use. Hattenbach asks visitors to comply with state requirements, use CDC recommendations to maintain group size under 10, and use social distancing of at least six feet from other visitors to mitigate risk of transmission of COVID-19.

The forest offices have instituted a screening process to ensure the health and safety of its employees. Those who have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus or have symptoms of the virus will not be allowed inside offices. Visitors are encouraged to call Forest Services offices or check the forest website for information rather than visiting in person.

–Scott Turner


2:29 p.m.
The Downs Racetrack & Casino temporarily closed

The Downs Racetrack & Casino as well as its grandstand have closed per government mandate and as a precautionary measure against any potential coronavirus exposure and in the promotion of social distancing, according to an email sent to the Journal. The closure is expected to last until April 10.

— Rozanna Martinez


2:19 p.m.
New Mexico Dental Association suggests emergency procedures only

Dentists and other health care workers are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases. In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the New Mexico Dental Association is advising that dental practices only perform emergency services for the next 14 days. The American Dental Association has issued similar guidance for dentists across the country.

“If you have tooth pain, swelling or difficulty eating, continue to call your dentist with those kinds of problems,” said Dr. Tom Schripsema, executive director of the New Mexico Dental Association. “We know that COVID-19 is likely to ramp up and use lots of health care resources, especially in emergency rooms, and we want to ensure that dental issues are being taken care of in our offices.”

Dental offices are reducing contact between patients in waiting rooms and increasing disinfecting procedures to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Schripsema said if dental offices limit procedures to the most urgent cases, the supply of equipment like masks and gloves will be adequate.

“We will likely re-evaluate these recommendations in the next 10 days or so,” he said. “This was not an easy decision to issue these recommendations, and we know this will be a financial hardship for offices as they have to keep paying bills with limited revenue. Everyone is tightening their belts.”

— Theresa Davis


12:57 p.m.
Route 66 Casino Hotel closed temporarily

Route 66 Casino Hotel and its sister properties Dancing Eagle Casino and Casino Express will be closed for up to 30 days beginning Wednesday, March 18 by the Laguna Development Corporation (LDC). The 154 room hotel at Route 66 will close over the next few days.

LDC will continue to operate the full service travel centers on Laguna Pueblo along Interstate 40, the Route 66 Pit Stops, its community grocery store in Casa Blanca and the Route 66 RV Resort under strict protocols to allow travelers access to goods and services.

All affected LDC employees will be paid and retain medical benefits during this period.

“The continuing COVID-19 crisis in New Mexico and the United States, the state ban on large public gatherings and our primary concern for the health and safety of our guests, employees and tribal members has led us to make this decision,” LDC Chief Operating Officer Tim Perkins said in a news release. “After discussions with the Pueblo of Laguna Tribal Administration, public health officials and Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham we have decided to voluntarily cease casino and most restaurant operations.”

— Rozanna Martinez


12:42 p.m.

Sandia Resort & Casino temporarily closed

Sandia Resort & Casino has been temporarily closed by the Pueblo of Sandia Tribal Council.

“As a tribal government and major employer in the Albuquerque metro area, the tribal council have made the decision to temporarily close all operations at the Sandia Resort & Casino for the health, safety and well-being of our employees, guests and tribal members,” Sandia Pueblo Governor Stuart Paisano stated in a news release. “The Pueblo is continuing to work closely with federal and local officials to develop a coordinated plan to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19, as well as economic and social impacts.”

— Rozanna Martinez


12:30 p.m.
State suggests ways to help

New Mexicans who want to help can volunteer to visit the elderly, make an appointment to donate blood or take supplies to a food bank or shelter, state officials said.

The suggestions, of course, are on top of the usual recommendations to stay home if you can, especially if you’re sick.

But for those who want to do more, the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department is accepting volunteers to provide food or other aid to seniors in New Mexico. Send a message to ALTSD-Volunteers@state.nm.us with the subject line “READY TO HELP” and your city and phone number.

The state’s general hotline also has volunteer information. Call 1-833-551-0518, and press 8.

Blood donations are another way to help, officials said. Blood infusions aren’t a routine treatment for COVID-19, but donations from healthy people are always welcome.

Homeless shelters and food banks are also accepting donations. Shelters can generally use toilet paper and cleaning products.

– Dan McKay


12:28 p.m.
‘Antiques Roadshow’ postpones tour, Santa Fe date

“Antiques Roadshow” is postponing its 2020 prodcution tour.

This means the June 16 stop in Santa Fe at Museum Hill will be rescheduled.

According to the show, the move comes to help prioritize the safety and health of its event guests, volunteers, appraisers, staff and crew, in light of the evolving circumstances related to COVID-19.

Read more >>

– Adrian Gomez


11:21 a.m.
Emergency action fund announced for nonprofits

Albuquerque Community Foundation and United Way of Central New Mexico announced Tuesday they have created an Emergency Action Fund to provide grants of $500 to $5,000 to nonprofits in the greater Albuquerque area struggling with lost and non-recoverable revenue expenses due to COVID-19.

“With the recent news of COVID-19 related cancellations and closings across Albuquerque, we’ve seen many nonprofits cancel programming and fundraising events that have not only caused a significant financial hardship on the organizations, but also on the local small businesses and individuals that would have benefited from being part of the canceled activities”, said foundation president and CEO Randy Royster in a news release. “We are taking immediate steps to help support our nonprofit community in the most responsive ways possible.”

The fund will accept requests for short-term financial support for nonprofits located in the Greater Albuquerque Area on its website abqcf.org beginning today, officials said in the release.

They are planning an accelerated response time to requests within ten days. Additional criteria is available on the website.

“We are pleased to partner with Albuquerque Community Foundation to create a funding source to address the immediate and unanticipated needs of our nonprofit partners during these incredibly stressful times,” said Rodney Prunty, president & CEO, United Way of Central New Mexico.

Donations to the Emergency Action Fund also are being accepted at ABQcf.org or by mail to Albuquerque Community Foundation, P.O. Box 25266, Albuquerque, NM 87125.

— Mike Murphy


10:44 a.m.
UNM President screened for virus, not in isolation, after return trip

University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes was screened for the coronavirus by a health care official upon her return to the university from a trip to Washington, D.C. on March 11.

She doesn’t have any symptoms and is not isolating herself inside her on-campus home, said Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university.

The New Mexico Department of Health has recommended that anyone who travels out of state go into self isolation for 14 days when they return to the state. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales also traveled to the nation’s capital last week. He has isolated himself and is working from home.

Blair said that Stokes reported her travel through a university portal that all employees are being asked to do. She was then screened – not tested – by an infectious disease expert at the university and is following prescribed guidance, Blair said.

Blair said Stokes is practicing good social distancing and having limited contact with others on a closed university.

“She’s not running around hugging anybody but she’s not quarantined in her home, either,” Blair said.

— Ryan Boetel


10:30 a.m.
Two more coronavirus cases emerge in northern NM

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — climbed to 23 on Tuesday after two men in northern New Mexico tested positive.

The latest cases are a Taos County man in his 50s and a Santa Fe County man in his 40s.

The Department of Health is investigating each case, tracking down anyone who had contact with people who’ve tested positive and testing anyone with symptoms.

So far, there are 14 confirmed cases in Bernalillo County, four in Santa Fe County, two each in Sandoval and Socorro counties, and one in Taos County.

The health department is encouraging people to stay home, especially if they’re sick.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 — such as a fever or respiratory problems — should call the state hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

For other information, call 833-551-0518 or visit newmexico.gov.

— Dan McKay


9:31 a.m.
UNM modifies spring break schedule

It’s not a three-week spring break, per se.

University of New Mexico officials have modified their response to COVID-19. While in-person classes are canceled until at least April 6, students may start having to complete online and other parts of their coursework starting next week.

Originally, UNM President Garnett Stokes had said spring would be extended and the university would be off from March 16 through April 5.

The school’s scholars, in fact, will have some work to complete during the hiatus.

Provost James Holloway sent a message to students on late Friday that clarified the school’s response to the virus, according to the Daily Lobo.

“Students already scheduled for online coursework will continue with no delay in content delivery,” UNM said in an updated message to students over the weekend. “Additionally, many academic units are striving to have some instruction online by March 23rd; students will receive notice from their faculty if such instruction is being assigned within the period of reduced operations.”

Graduate student research, studio project work, internships and other activities may continue as scheduled during the school’s break, the statement said.

Holloway has said in his dispatches to campus that the university is trying to balance student safety with student success. He said that university officials are concerned that a complete cancellation of the current school year could prevent some students from completing their degrees.

— Ryan Boetel


8:42 a.m.
UFO Festival in Roswell still scheduled

An annual New Mexico event dedicated to UFOs isn’t changing plans despite concern around the new coronavirus.

KOB-TV reports the UFO Festival in Roswell remains scheduled for July 3 to 5 and organizers say they have no plans to move it.

Mainstreet Roswell board member Molly Boyles says organizers still have time and will only cancel or postpone if government agencies recommend it.

Boyles, the owner of Once Again Consignment and Resale, also says she doesn’t plan to close the doors to her shop anytime soon.

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh says the city so far has no positive cases of COVID-19.

The site of a supposed UFO crash in 1947, Roswell has an annual extraterrestrial festival that draws thousands.

— Associated Press


6:15 a.m.
Isleta Resort & Casino temporarily closing

The Pueblo of Isleta Tribal Leaders are temporarily closing Isleta Resort & Casino, Palace West Casino, Isleta Hotel and the Isleta Fun Connection. The closures go into effect at 4 a.m. Tuesday, March 17.

“As a major employer of over 1,200 people, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close Isleta Resort and Casino for the health and safety of our team members and guests due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic,” Isleta Resort & Casino CEO Harold Baugus stated in a news release.

“Our Isleta Resort and Casino team member family will meet these relevant issues and challenges together with dedication, compassion, resilience, and strength ensuring we are showing the greatest level of care to our guests, Pueblo of Isleta members and our team members.”

Isleta Resort & Casino team members will continue to receive compensation and benefits during this closure. Updates on the closure can be found at isleta.com.

— Rozanna Martinez


6:10 a.m.
Santa Ana Casino Hotel closed temporarily

Santa Ana Star Casino has been closed temporarily by the Pueblo of Santa Ana and The Tamaya Enterprises Board of Directors.

The property is planning a 30-day closure and will re-evaluate circumstances on a daily basis. The casino’s hotel tower will be closing in the next few days as guests depart.

“We are closing in order to promote social distancing and be responsible in preventing unnecessary spread,” John Cirrincione, Chief Executive Officer, explains in a news release. “Hopefully others will follow our lead. All full-time and part-time team members will receive full pay and health benefits for the next 30 days. Team members will also receive compensation for any lost gratuities.”

Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel has taken many preventive measures prior to the closure to include personal protective equipment, a coronavirus website for team members to stay informed, and a high visibility and engagement management team to ease the concerns of their team.

“We see the closure of our facility as simply the right thing to do,” Melanie Martinez, TEI Chairwoman states. “Although this temporary closure will have a significant financial impact on us, we understand that we have benefited from both our fellow citizens and team members. Now is the time for us to make responsible and ethical decisions with the best interest of everyone in mind.”

— Rozanna Martinez


12:05 a.m.
City Council approves emergency powers

Rows were empty Monday evening in the Vincent E. Griego chamber during an Albuquerque City Council meeting. There is a statewide restriction on large gatherings. (Anthony Jackson/Albuquerque Journal)

With the global coronavirus pandemic prompting government action at all levels, Albuquerque’s mayor will now have some new public health emergency powers.

The Albuquerque City Council voted 6-3 Monday to update a decades-old city ordinance that granted the mayor special authority in the event of a riot or natural disaster. The decision created a new – and distinct – emergency category for any infectious disease outbreak “that presents a threat to the health or safety of the residents.”

Read more >>

— Jessica Dyer

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