Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
California governor issues statewide stay-at-home order
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the state’s 40 million residents to stay at home, restricting non-essential movements to control the spread of the coronavirus that threatens to overwhelm the state’s medical system.
“This is a moment we need to make tough decisions,” Newsom said. “We need to recognize reality.”
Albuquerque hospitals restrict visitors
Albuquerque hospitals have announced new visitor rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a Thursday afternoon release from the city’s joint information center.
At Lovelace Hospital, all visitors will be screened for symptoms, including fever, cough, runny nose and trouble breathing. Visitors with those symptoms will be asked to leave.
Visitors who leave a Lovelace patient room will not be allowed to re-enter the hospital. No one is allowed to wait in hospital lobbies.
In the Lovelace emergency department, one caregiver over the age of 18 per patient is allowed. In the labor and delivery department and for pediatric and newborn patients, only one visitor per patient is allowed. Visitors under 18 are not allowed unless they are the parent of the baby or patient. Only immediate family is allowed to visit critically-ill patients or end-of-life patients. Patients having outpatient surgery must be dropped off and picked up, and visitors for those patients may not wait in the lobby. Hospital staff will provide the caregivers with updates and pick-up times.
Presbyterian Hospital is not allowing visitors on any hospital campuses. Exceptions may be made for relatives of young patients, maternity patients and patients receiving end-of-life care. Any visitors admitted under those exceptions may be screened for symptoms. The hospital is encouraging families to stay in touch with patients through online communication.
The University of New Mexico Hospital and Sandoval Regional Medical Center are discouraging visitors. Patients at UNMH or SRMC awaiting COVID-19 test results are not allowed to have visitors.
Sick visitors are not allowed into the hospitals unless they are seeking medical care. Visitors may be screened for symptoms upon arrival. All non-patient visitors must be over 14 years old. Visitor exceptions may be made for pediatric patients, maternity patients and patients undergoing end-of-life care. Visitors to UNMH or SRMC should stay in patient rooms and not visit the cafeterias, lobbies or gift shops.
— Theresa Davis
ABQ animal shelters to be appointment-only
The city of Albuquerque’s animal shelters are going to an appointment-only adoption model in an effort to promote social distancing at their facilities.
Anyone interested can view available pets online at www.cabq.gov/pets and call 311 to schedule an adoption appointment. The city is currently waiving adoption fees.
The city is also attempting to limit intakes by asking those with healthy pets to not surrender them during the coronavirus pandemic. It is only accepting “emergency” intake of stray animals starting Friday, March 20. That means “animals in need of medical treatment because they are sick or injured and animals that may pose a risk to public safety,” the city said in a news release. They will be accepted from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
The city encourages residents who find a stray pet that is not in need of medical treatment or a safety risk to:
– Maintain custody of the pet and look for its owner as allowed per the HEART ordinance (https://www.cabq.gov/pets/education-resources/heart-ordinance/heart-ordinance-text)
– Have stray pets scanned for a microchip at a local veterinary clinic or city shelter
– Promote the pet on Pawboost, a free website and app to reunite stray pets with their owners
– Report to the Animal Welfare Department by calling 311 providing the Pawboost information so that AWD can promote the pet through its social media outlets
– Non-emergency strays will only be accepted 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays and only after setting an appointment by calling 311.
“Owners of animals who want to surrender their pet to the shelter are being asked to wait until pandemic concerns subside,” the city’s release said.
— Jessica Dyer
All tribal casinos have temporarily closed
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced Thursday that all tribal casinos in New Mexico have temporarily closed in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor spoke with tribal leaders on Monday and urged them to close the casinos, which are a big money-maker for the tribes, and also consider implementing other measures to protect their populations.
Some tribal casinos closed immediately, but others remained open for a few more days before closing their doors.
Non-tribal casinos and racetracks under the state’s jurisdiction were shuttered Monday under an emergency order issued by state Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel.
In all, 14 tribes and pueblos have casinos, with some of the tribal groups operating multiple casinos.
— Dan Boyd
Special session talk intensifies amid oil price downturn
With oil prices plunging to their lowest level in 22 years, state legislators are projecting an imminent budget crisis that’s likely to force the New Mexico Legislature into special session.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee, said the state could be facing a $1 billion loss in oil and gas-related revenue if the crisis continues through this year and into 2021.
The problem is, no one knows how long the economic shutdown from coronavirus will last, nor how long the price war between Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will continue. Those two events together pushed the price of U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate to $20.06 a barrel Wednesday afternoon, its lowest level since 1998.
— Dan Boyd
Gallup, Las Cruces dioceses rescind decisions to hold Masses
The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Gallup and Las Cruces, have each rescinded a previous decision to hold Masses during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
“With all the precautions that have been coming out within the last week, we thought it was prudent to go ahead and cancel all public Masses and services,” Suzanne Hammons, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Gallup, said Thursday.
Likewise, as a matter of public health safety, the Diocese of Las Cruces has also “temporarily suspended Masses”, said diocese spokesman Christopher Valasquez on Thursday.
Both spokespersons said churches in their dioceses will be available for individuals to come and pray, but they advise calling the respective church office to find out what hours the church will be open. They also want people who come to church to follow the recommendations of public health officials and practice social distancing and not cluster together in groups of more than 10.
The Diocese of Gallup will livestream Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. on the diocesan website at www.dioceseofgallup.org.
The Diocese of Las Cruces will livestream its three daily Masses at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. at the diocesan website www.rcdlc.org.
Valasquez said each Mass will be led by a different priest “so people can still feel connected with their pastors.”
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe last week made the decision to suspend Masses.
— Rick Nathanson
Picture: Interstate sign encourages drivers to stay home
— Anthony Jackson
Sandoval County looks to release nonviolent and misdemeanor inmates
The Sandoval County attorney is asking a judge to direct the local jail to release all misdemeanor and non-violent offenders and to refuse to admit any more in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is in the best interest of Sandoval County citizens to release all persons charged with or convicted of misdemeanor or non-violent felony crimes, being held on behalf of any jurisdiction or authority, from the Sandoval County Detention Center during the State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus,” the petition for a writ of mandamus filed on Thursday states.
Defense attorneys and advocates have called for similar action in recent days amid fears that the virus could spread rapidly in a detention facility.
— Katy Barnitz
Española school turns to online courses during closure
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced March 12 that all public schools in New Mexico would close their doors for three weeks due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The order left schools and districts with less time to teach students required curriculum, during a time in the school year usually spent on preparing students for state testing.
For Cliff Tompson, principal of Carlos Vigil Middle School in Española, three weeks or more of zero instruction was not an option.
— Kyle Land
DA: Prosecutors will no longer come to court for some hearings
Prosecutors in Bernalillo County are putting the state’s judiciary on notice that beginning Monday, they will no longer be coming to court in person for hearings that can constitutionally take place via video conference.
It’s the latest chapter in a back and forth between lawyers and the Supreme Court as the justice system wrangles with how to conduct court business in the coronavirus era.
— Katy Barnitz
UNM instruction to continue online; students in dorms asked to leave
Students are being asked to move out of dorm rooms, and academics at the state’s flagship university will be achieved remotely for the rest of the semester, University of New Mexico officials announced on Thursday.
Students who live on campus received an email with move-out instructions on Thursday directing them to leave their dorms by Tuesday, March 24.
— Ryan Boetel
Delegation: NM residents traveling abroad need help
Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are seeking the Trump administration’s help to bring New Mexico residents who are stranded abroad during the COVID-19 outbreak.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said during a teleconference Thursday the delegation was pushing the administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bring state residents home.
“My team has been working to connect with New Mexicans where ever they are in the world,” the senator said. “We are connecting them to their nearest embassy and helping them work with airlines.”
Members of the delegation sent out a statement saying their offices were hearing reports that residents were having trouble getting assistance from the State Department.
“We are calling on the Trump administration to immediately assist and communicate with Americans who are stranded abroad – away from their families, communities, and trusted health care providers,” the statement read.
The statement was sent out by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall on behalf of himself, Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland, Ben Ray Lujan and Xochitl Torres Small.
— Scott Turner
Ty Murray bullriding event canceled
The coronavirus crisis has claimed another event in New Mexico sports — the popular Ty Murray Invitational bullriding event that was scheduled to take place in late April at Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit.
Presbyterian COVID-19 testing center closes early due to weather
Presbyterian’s West Side COVID-19 drive-up testing center closed early due to weather Thursday afternoon, according to a release by the City of Albuquerque.
The center is scheduled to reopen Friday morning at 9 a.m.
– Robert Browman
BCSO deputies to begin collecting, distributing supplies
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office kicked off a community initiative Thursday morning where deputies will deliver items to people in need.
In a news conference streamed on Facebook live, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales announced that BCSO is gathering donations from area businesses, non-profits, schools and faith based organizations and packaging them to deliver to people who need help.
He said they have already received about 50 packages from Sagebrush Church.
“It’s going to vary,” Gonzales said. “Some will receive toilet paper, possibly toilet paper, water, milk and some other non-perishable items.”
Gonzales said a uniformed deputy in a marked vehicle will deliver the items and leave the package outside a home so they won’t come into contact with residents.
“We thought this collaboration was a positive way to build up some community outreach and make people feel at ease in our community,” Gonzales said. “Because some of the information they are receiving, constantly viewing the news, puts them on edge. So we thought this was the best way for us to be there.”
To request help or donate items call the BCSO hotline at (505) 331-9378
— Elise Kaplan
COVID-19 cases surge to 35 in NM
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Mexico jumped to 35 on Thursday — with seven new positive tests, including four new in Bernalillo County.
It’s the single largest increase in a day so far, though the rate of testing is also accelerating.
State officials didn’t reveal details but said they are investigating each case to determine who came into contact with the person and testing anyone with symptoms of COVID-19.
The new cases were in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and San Miguel counties.
New Mexico officials are urging people to stay home, especially if they’re sick. The state has banned large gatherings, closed schools and limited restaurants to take-out and delivery.
Altogether, there are now 20 positive cases in Bernalillo County, seven in Santa Fe County, four in Sandoval County, two in Socorro County and one each in Taos and San Miguel counties.
— Dan McKay
Navajo casinos in New Mexico temporarily close
Northern Edge, Flowing Water and Fire Rock Casinos have temporarily seized operations. The casinos plan to remain closed until April 6.
— Rozanna Martinez
Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino to close temporarily
The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino and Casino Apache have closed. The properties plan to reopen on April 1. Hotel guests will be allowed to remain on property until standard check-out time of 11 a.m. Friday, March 20. Its ski area, Ski Apache, will close on Sunday, March 22.
The gas station located at Casino Apache will remain open for credit card transactions only during the temporary resort closure.
All employees will be paid for the two-week period. During this time of closure, employee paychecks, paid time off and benefits will not be affected.
— Rozanna Martinez
Heinrich: Assistance needed for hospitality industry workers
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said future coronavirus response legislation approved by Congress should include assistance for workers whose jobs are being cut as a result of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
And the Democratic senator said he favored cash payments to Americans as part of the relief that should be provided.
“I do think it would be a boost to the economy,” Heinrich said during a teleconference with members of the New Mexico media Thursday. “Obviously, some people could use it to stay in their homes. People could also use it to purchase the supplies they need.”
Some of his Democratic colleagues, including fellow New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, have proposed $2,000 payments to individuals as part of a $750 billion economic assistance package. The White House is pushing a $1,000 payment. Heinrich did not endorse a proposal.
Heinrich voiced support for measures put into place by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham, which included Wednesday ordering the closure of restaurants, breweries and bars, except for delivery or take out orders.
He said his office has been in communication with the governor’s office daily.
He said the first priority should be stopping the spread of the virus.
“But we need to address the economy as soon as we stop the spread (of the virus),” he said.
— Scott Turner
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market will go on as usual
While many businesses are being closed or are operating under restrictions and public events are being postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market will go on this Saturday.
Debbie Burns, the market’s general manager, says the market plans to keep serving its role as an important source for fresh food in the community.
“People should understand that products at the farmers market are coming directly from the farms where they were harvested. This means you are getting the cleanest product out there,” she said.
— T.S. Last
Pope asks Catholics to pray rosary at 2 p.m. local time
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the globe, the pope is calling on all Catholics to pray the rosary in unison at 2 p.m., MST, Thursday.
Pope Francis made the request at the end of his Wednesday audience address.
“The intention is for the protection of families, in particular the sick and those who care for them: doctors, nurses and volunteers, who risk heir lives in this service,” Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester, said in an email announcing the pope’s request.
— Rick Nathanson
‘A terrible day’ for NM’s restaurants, bars
Everything from steakhouse chain restaurants to neighborhood taquerias will face the same harsh reality in New Mexico starting Thursday: no more in-person service.
As part of her sweeping plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered all restaurants, breweries and bars to close, except for takeout and delivery orders.
At the same time, she has ordered the closure of indoor shopping malls and required hotels to operate at no more than 50%.
The moves are likely to have significant reverberations throughout the economy as the accommodation and food services industry accounts for more than 97,000 jobs in New Mexico, and retail trade makes up nearly 90,000, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions website.
— Jessica Dyer, Matthew Reisen, Stephen Hamway, Pilar Martinez, T.S. Last, Anthony Jackson
Evictions worry residents, advocates, officials, in time of COVID-19
Cities, states and courts across the country are halting evictions while residents grapple with being out of work and losing multiple paychecks due to the drastic efforts taken to stem the spread of the virus.
In New Mexico, the governor’s office said she is interested in the idea but doesn’t think she has the authority to order a freeze.
— Elise Kaplan