Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
Webber asks ICE to stop I-9 audits
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber has asked federal authorities to stop verifying employee eligibility status as part of immigration enforcement activities during the current public health emergency.
“We call on federal immigration officials to halt these audits,” Webber said in a statement Thursday. “Immigrants living in Santa Fe, like so many others in our community, are already feeling tremendous anxiety about their personal health and loss of income as result of COVID-19. Now they are threatened with the possibility of being deported and separated from their families by ICE. This only makes an uncertain and precarious situation worse, and it needs to stop immediately.”
— T.S. Last
On the front lines
Officials say no first responders have tested positive for COVID-19 in Albuquerque or Bernalillo County, but it’s a concern that is on everybody’s mind.
Across the nation as cities go on lockdown, gatherings get canceled and businesses, schools and churches shutter their doors, first responders are still out there doing their jobs, going into homes and coming into close contact with people who may be infected.
Both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County dispatchers have changed the way they screen 911 calls over the past several weeks. And if a patient possibly has COVID-19, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians from both agencies suit up in a hospital gown, gloves, a mask and eye protection and ask the patient to step outside and put on a mask if they can.
— Elise Kaplan
UNMH prohibiting most visitors
The University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) is prohibiting visitors, with few exceptions.
“I know this places a burden on our patients and their loved ones, but it is a necessary measure to lessen potential exposure of our patients and health care workers to the coronavirus,” said Paul Roth, CEO of the UNM Health System.
Pediatric patients, patients in the maternity and labor and delivery departments, and patients seeking end-of-life care may have one other person present in their room.
Visitors admitted under these exceptions will be screened for symptoms, and any visitor with a fever will not be allowed into the hospital. Visitors are required to stay in patient rooms and not visit common areas. No visitors under the age of 14 are allowed.
UNMH is also prohibiting students from entering research facilities or working on clinical trials.
Essential UNMH employees who need child care while they work should contact Jessica Kelly at JesKelly@salud.unm.edu.
— Theresa Davis
Santa Fe hospital seeks medical and cleaning supplies
SANTA FE — In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe says it is in urgent need of medical and cleaning supplies.
The hospital says it is in need of gloves, masks of all types, bunny suits and cleaning material, like Clorox, Pine-Sol and other disinfectants.
“Any and all restaurants, bars, hotels, and other businesses who may be able to provide those essential items are encouraged to help out,” says a notice distributed by the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.
Anyone willing to help is urged to call 505-913-4891.
— Journal North
Delegation asks for Holtec comment extension
Members of the New Mexico congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Kristine L. Svinicki on Friday asking the NRC to delay any public meetings and to extend the 60-day public comment period regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Holtec’s proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility in southeast New Mexico because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The delegation said meetings held over the next few weeks would go against Centers for Disease Control guidelines concerning the coronavirus.
“We respectfully urge you to extend the public comment period until the threat of COVID-19 has passed and it is again safe to attend public meetings,” the delegation wrote in its letter to the NRC. “In addition, NRC should schedule public meetings at locations across New Mexico to allow ample opportunity for full participation.”
— Scott Turner
Bernalillo County stops evictions for some
The Bernalillo County Housing Department will cease evictions for people with reduced incomes and cannot pay rent in the wake of COVID-9 shutdowns.
In a press release, Housing Director Betty Valdez said residents who have lost income due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and subsequent closures are asked to call their program assistant with Bernalillo County housing to arrange subsidies.
“We want to assist our community in every way possible,” Valdez said in the release. “We want people to call in and we will do everything we can to help them through this challenging time.”
The non-eviction initiative is for rents only and residents will have to provide proof of reduced income to qualify, according to the release. The Housing Department reserves the right to proceed with evictions “under limited circumstances” where there is “a serious public safety concern.”
Additionally, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said it’s working to keep people in their homes and will wait “as long as possible” to serve the evictions for both the “safety of the community and deputies.”
Questions regarding the eviction process should be directed to the BCSO civil unit at 505-468-7140.
— Matt Reisen
Non-essential U.S.-Mexico border crossings restricted
The U.S. and Mexico announced Friday that non-essential travel along their shared, 2,000-mile border will be severely restricted to control the spread of coronavirus, but trade activity, cargo shipments and work-related crossings will not be affected.
The new restrictions, which take effect at midnight Friday, prohibit recreational and tourist travel, similar to restrictions enacted earlier this week along the U.S.-Canada border. But there will be no ban on people crossing between the U.S. and Mexico for work or other essential activities, and there will be no halt to commercial traffic, said Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf Friday morning.
— Kevin Robinson-Avila
NM Gas Co. and PNM temporarily close in-person payment centers
New Mexico Gas Co. and Public Service Co. of New Mexico have temporarily closed their in-person payment centers to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The change went into effect Friday and will stay in place until further notice, the companies said in a joint news release.
The closures will affect the PNM payment centers in Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Bayard, Deming, Las Vegas, Lordsburg, Ruidoso and Silver City and all 22 of NMGC’s customer walk-in offices across New Mexico.
— Lloyd Jojola
Hair, nail salons advised to limit clients inside shops
You can still get your hair or nails done, but not with a crowd around.
The state Board of Barbers and Cosmetologist issued a news release Friday “advising hair and nail salons, barber shops and other businesses and schools it regulates to limit the number of professionals and clients in their facilities at one time to 10 people total if they choose to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“These businesses may need to adjust student and employee schedules to be in compliance with the public health order,” the board said. “Failure to comply is a violation of the order and could result in penalties.”
Any updates will be posted at the New Mexico Revenue and Licensing Department’s website, www.rld.state.nm.us.
— Lloyd Jojola
Picture: City employee disinfects playground
— Roberto E. Rosales
Dow drops more than 900 points, ending worst week since 2008
Stocks sank to their worst week since the financial crisis of 2008 as traders went into full retreat out of fear that the coronavirus will plunge the U.S. and other major economies into deep recessions.
The Dow industrials dropped more than 900 points, extending their weekly loss to 17%.
The price of U.S. crude oil also took another nosedive as investors anticipate a sharp drop in demand for energy as manufacturing, travel and commerce grind nearly to a halt. New York became the latest state to extend a mandate to nearly all workers stay home to limit the spread of the virus.
Las Cruces site hits testing limit in 2 hours
The state Department of Health hit its daily limit for testing supplies after just two hours Friday at a drive-up screening location in Las Cruces.
David Morgan, a spokesman for the department, said the state is working to expand testing while also managing its medical supplies.
“While we were able to provide testing for many area residents,” he said, “many more had to be turned away. We understand the high interest for testing by Las Cruces residents — and that of our neighbors in El Paso.”
Testing, he said, is limited to people showing symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and respiratory problems. People should call their health care provider or the state hotline at 1-855-600-3453 if they show symptoms.
It took just two hours Friday, Morgan said, to reach the “day’s capacity of specimen collection supplies.”
— Dan McKay
NM coronavirus cases increase to 43
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Mexico accelerated Friday as the state announced eight new positive tests, including the first infections in Doña Ana and McKinley counties.
The state now has 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The state Department of Health said it has “detected community spread,” meaning at least some of the infections are the result of the virus moving from person to person in New Mexico, rather than just travel-related infections.
State officials are aggressively pushing for people to stay home and limit the chance of contracting or spreading the disease. To that end, schools are closed, public gatherings are banned and restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery.
In a written statement, the health department also warned “that given the infectious nature of the virus it is likely other residents are infected but yet to be tested or confirmed positive.”
The coronavirus has now been detected in eight counties in New Mexico, with more than half the infections in Bernalillo County, home to Albuquerque.
The eight cases announced Friday are the largest single-day increase announced by the state so far, though the increase comes amid expanded testing.
— Dan McKay
New York joins California in locking down against the virus
New York state moved to join California on Friday in confining nearly all residents to their homes, as governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle.
“We’re going to close the valve, because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as cases in the state climbed to more than 7,000 and the death toll reached at least 38.
Commercial, residential construction continues in New Mexico
Commercial and residential construction in New Mexico is still up and running amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
But it’s not quite business as usual.
Industry representatives are paying increased attention to hygiene at work sites, the global availability of construction materials, and the possibility of a workforce shortage.
— Theresa Davis
US and Mexico to curb border travel to control coronavirus
Mexico and the U.S. announced plans Friday to sharply limit travel over their busy shared border as part of efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.
President Donald Trump and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the two governments agreed to prohibit recreational and tourist travel, similar to the restrictions put in place earlier this week along the U.S. and Canadian border.
NM postpones tax deadlines
New Mexicans and their employers will have more time to file and pay their taxes as the state pushes to provide economic relief amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Personal income taxes will now be due July 15, or 90 days later than the typical mid-April deadline, for both state and federal tax returns. The state is also pushing back the corporate tax deadline to April 15.
— Dan McKay
State, federal government announce virus-related business resources
The spread of the new coronavirus has created unprecedented challenges for New Mexico small businesses, but they have a mix of state and federal resources to draw on to combat the virus’ impacts.
The U.S. Small Business Administration announced recently it is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to small businesses in certain communities, putting the coronavirus impacts on the same footing as a massive flood, wildfire or other natural disasters.
— Stephen Hamway
New Mexico to receive $250 million Medicaid increase
New Mexico will receive a $250 million increase in federal Medicaid funding for New over a 12-month period from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law by President Donald Trump, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall announced Friday.
The funding will provide added relief to the state, which will face growing costs due to the spread of COVID-19, they said.
The senators said the legislation increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage that determines the amount of funding the federal government provides to state and territorial Medicaid programs.
The act will also provide free nation-wide testing for COVID-19 and initial economic relief for the impacts of the pandemic, they said.
“This $250 million in additional Medicaid funding, part of the Families First Act, will help to make sure those hit hardest during this crisis are not left behind, “Udall said in a release.
“We need to ensure New Mexico families who qualify can receive Medicaid coverage for critical and lifesaving health care,” Heinrich added.
All members of the state’s congressional delegation voted for the package as it passed through Congress.
— Scott Turner
Navajo Nation cases rise to 14, residents asked to stay at home
Health officials on the Navajo Nation identified 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, raising the total number from three to 14, according to a news release issued by the nation’s president.
Officials on Wednesday evening had notified tribal members there were three cases on the Navajo Nation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. By Thursday evening, the number had surged to 14.
“The majority of the 14 cases involve individuals who initially reported their symptoms to the Kayenta IHS Service Unit, and others who either reported to or were transported to or were treated at Chinle Health Care Facility, and Northern Navajo Medical Center,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez’s office wrote in the release. “Emergency officials are taking every precaution to screen and isolate their family members and others. The Navajo Health Command Operations Center and Navajo Area IHS are in the process of determining if and how the cases relate.”
Vice President Myron Lizer urged members to remain calm as new cases emerge.
“This is not a time for panic. Although there is an increase in positive tests for COVID-19, there are also a large number of people who have tested negative and some who are recovering. Please remain watchful over family members and follow official instructions so as not to create panic and please respect our first responders, health care workers, Health Command Operations Center and many other experts as they handle the situation,” Lizer wrote in the release.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center issued a shelter-in-place order Thursday for the Chilchinbeto community, according to the release.
— Robert Browman
Torres Small in self-isolation
U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is the second member of the New Mexico congressional delegation to be in self-isolation after coming in contact with a person who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Her office announced she has been in self-isolation since Sunday. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan announced earlier this week that he was also in self-isolation. Both said they would be in self-quarantine for 14 days. Torres Small is not showing any signs of symptoms, her office said, and has not been tested. Lujan told the Journal earlier this week that he has not exhibited any symptoms and has not been tested.
“Although I’m not exhibiting any symptoms, the House Attending Physician out of an abundance of caution has advised me to self-quarantine,” Torres Small said in a release Thursday night. “During this time, my top priority will remain ensuring my constituents have the information and resources they need to stay safe and healthy, which is why I will be teleworking from my home and staying in constant contact with local, state, and federal officials as we confront this public health emergency together.”
Torres Small’s office said she will host a telephone town hall Sunday at 6 p.m. about COVID-19 with health care professionals, state officials and small business and unemployment advisers.
— Scott Turner