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Coronavirus updates, March 24

Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.

PICTURES


UPDATES

8:20 p.m.
Number of Navajo Nation cases rises to 49

The Navajo Nation checkpoint near Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on March 21, 2020. (Navajo Nation)

Ten more people tested positive for COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 49, according to tribal leadership.

The cases include 30 people from Navajo County, seven from Apache County and six from Coconino County in Arizona, and four from McKinley County in New Mexico, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reported on social media.

Residents on the reservation, which has a population of about 350,000 and extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, remain under emergency stay-at-home order.

Nez’s office issued a release earlier in the day announcing the number had reached 39 as of Monday night.

In the release, Nez directed residents to stay at home unless if at all possible.

“To prevent a massive public health crisis, every person must remain home, unless you need food, medicine, or other essential items, but beyond that we shouldn’t have anyone traveling or going out into the public,” Nez wrote in the release “If you need essential items, send only one person and use every precaution available,” he wrote.

For the last few days, responders have been delivering care packages to residents of Chilchinbeto, an area of about 1,000 that has been hit hard by the virus.

The release asked Chilchinbeto residents with questions to call (928) 871-6271.

The Navajo Health Command Operations Center can be reached at (928) 871-7014.

— Robert Browman



6:41 p.m.
City expands list of closures

The newest wave of local government closures related to coronavirus has swept up City Hall, golf courses and the Albuquerque Rapid Transit route.

The city of Albuquerque announced that all its buildings — including City Hall — would be closed to the public by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

That will encompass the city’s planning department inside the Plaza del Sol building. However, permitting will continue by telephone, while inspections and other field work will occur as normal.

The city is also closing its golf courses.

Though a state of New Mexico “stay at home” instruction is meant to keep people from parks, Albuquerque’s city parks will remain open.

“Our parks are obviously there,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a news conference, citing an exemption in the state order for outdoor exercise. “If you’re going to use that exception, go there and then get home.”

The city is, however closing its playgrounds.

Albuquerque also will reduce all city bus service starting Saturday, suspending the ART route entirely and initiating a limited-service “Saturday” schedule for other routes until further notice.

Bernalillo County — which uses the same Downtown headquarters as the city — has also closed its offices and most of its other facilities to the public.

— Jessica Dyer


6:39 p.m.
DA proposes emergency provisional rules for preliminary hearings

Bernalillo County’s district attorney is pushing for “emergency provisional rules” regarding preliminary hearings, one of the two mechanisms available to prosecutors seeking to bring formal charges in Distrct Court.

Raul Torrez says that under current court rules, a preliminary hearing requires the presence of a judge, court staff, attorneys, the defendant and witnesses. He worries this charging method is not “realistically possible in the middle of a public health emergency when community members are being ordered to stay at home.” Torrez has proposed amendments to court rules regarding preliminary hearings. They include a change dictating that the rules of evidence do not apply and an extension of the deadlines for a preliminary hearing to take place.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said there is no need to suspend the rules of evidence to keep people safe during this crisis.

“Either continue the case or make other arrangements to bring credible witnesses before the court,” he said.

— Katy Barnitz


NM health centers to receive $1.17 million in coronavirus funding

The Department of Health and Human Services released over $1.17 million in emergency grants to 16 community health centers, Pueblo health centers and Urban Indian Organizations in New Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday.

The funding announced is part of the over $8 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress on March 5. It was supported by all members of the delegation.

Listed below is the breakdown of funding:

  • Albuquerque Health Care For The Homeless, Inc., Albuquerque, $56,557
  • Ben Archer Health Center, Inc., Hatch, $118,858
  • Clínica De Familia, Inc., La, Las Cruces, $79,756
  • Debaca Family Practice Clinic, Fort Sumner, $52,310
  • El Centro Family Health, Espanola, $66,544
  • First Choice Community Healthcare, Inc., Albuquerque, $105,644
  • First Nations Community Health Source Inc, Albuquerque, $99,439
  • Hidalgo Medical Services, Lordsburg, $61,337
  • Jemez Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, $52,854
  • La Casa De Buena Salud Inc, Portales, $71,670
  • La Clínica Del Pueblo, Tierra Amarilla, $52,530
  • La Familia Medical Center, Santa Fe, $76,451
  • Las Clínicas Del Norte, Inc. El Rito, $58,539
  • Mora Valley Community Health Services, Inc., Mora, $52,525
  • Presbyterian Medical Services, Inc., Santa Fe, $119,017
  • St. Luke’s Health Care Clinic, Inc., Las Cruces, $51,909

— Scott Turner


4:14 p.m.
Coronavirus outbreak hits 100 cases

The number of coronavirus cases in New Mexico surged to 100 on Tuesday as tests confirmed the disease had spread to Cibola and Curry counties.

The state Department of Health reported 17 new positive tests for COVID-19, including new infections in Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, McKinley and San Juan counties. There was one case each in Cibola and Curry counties — both women in their 50s — the first infections in those communities.

The department is investigating each of the new positive cases, including examining who they have been in contact with and testing those with symptoms.

To slow the outbreak, the state has instructed people to stay home, and it has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses.

“New Mexicans are strongly urged to limit travel to only what is necessary for health, safety and welfare,” the health department said.

— Dan McKay


4:10 p.m.
PED seeks waiver for standardized testing

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent public school closures in the state, the New Mexico Public Education Department is seeking to cancel standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. On Monday, New Mexico’s Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart asked the U.S. Department of Education for a “one-year reprieve from federal student testing and accountability requirements” according to spokeswoman Nancy Martira. Testing would have taken place this spring.

Late last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that students wouldn’t have to undergo standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year if they were affected by coronavirus-related school closures and states could request a waiver.

New Mexico schools were initially shuttered for three weeks, but the PED doesn’t know if that will be extended — though it’s highly likely it will be, according to Martira. The longer the closure the less prepared students are for testing. Also, the PED can’t offer the test virtually for everyone.

New Mexico’s memo to the U.S. Department of Education is posted online at https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/ and it’s open for the public to submit emailed comments.

It’s unclear what this will mean for high school juniors and seniors. The PED Assessment Bureau is working with the federal education department to address ripple effects, according to Martira.

– Shelby Perea


3:48 p.m.
Santa Fe Community Foundation distributes funds to non-profits

Thirteen non-profit organizations in northern New Mexico are among the first recipients of money from the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, a fund set up to assist non-profit groups with operational disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bill Smith, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, said 150 donors have contributed $56,000 since the fund was opened on March 15. He said that $52,500 of that amount is ready to be released to non-profits in Mora, Rio Arriba, San Miguel and Santa Fe counties.

Read more >>

— T.S. Last


3:28 p.m.
Kirtland commander hosting video town hall

Kirtland Air Force Base installation commander Col. David Miller will be hosting a video town hall meeting at 6 p.m. this evening about the COVID-19 outbreak.

He will give the latest information about the decision to raise the health protection level at the base and answer questions from viewers submitted ahead of time.

Questions must be emailed it to kirtlandpa@gmail.com by 5 p.m. Questions will be answered in the time allowed, according to a release sent out by the base.

Go to the KAFB official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KirtlandAirForceBase/ to view the town hall.

The video will remain on the KAFB Facebook page for viewing afterward.

— Scott Turner


2:15 p.m.
Dow surges 2,100 points as Congress nears deal on virus aid

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged to its best day since 1933 as Congress and the White House neared a deal on Tuesday to inject nearly $2 trillion of aid into an economy ravaged by the coronavirus.

The Dow burst 11.4% higher, while the more closely followed S&P 500 index leapt 9.4% as a wave of buying around the world interrupted what has been a brutal month of nearly nonstop selling. Despite the gains, investors were far from saying markets have hit bottom. Rallies nearly as big as this have punctuated the last few weeks, and none lasted more than a day.

Read more >>


12:45 p.m.
NM Supreme Court temporarily halts evictions

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered a temporary halt on most evictions in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order, which was issued Tuesday, applies to those who face eviction due to the inability to pay rent. It says the court is balancing the need for property owners to evict tenants with directives from public health authorities and the governor that emphasize the need to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with each other.

“New Mexicans are struggling financially as workplaces close because of the public health emergency,” said Chief Justice Judith Nakamura. “The Court’s order will provide temporary relief for families and individuals facing the possibility of losing their housing at a time when the governor and public health officials have ordered New Mexicans to remain at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Read more >>

— Elise Kaplan


12:10 p.m.
SIC approves creation of $100 million NM recovery fund

The New Mexico State Investment Council voted unanimously Tuesday to immediately pump up to $100 million from one of the state’s large permanent funds into a newly-formed New Mexico Recovery Fund, which will provide discounted, short-term loans to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who chairs the investment council, urged the SIC to act quickly, saying many businesses are reaching the “breaking point” due to state-mandated closures in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We’re besieged by calls,” Lujan Grisham said during Tuesday’s meeting, which was conducted by phone. “…None of us know how the next days and weeks will look, but we need to act on two fronts: to protect our citizens — which we’re doing as much as we can to mitigate the consequences from the coronavirus — and to recognize our obligation to do all we can to support our businesses.”

Read more >>

— Dan Boyd


11:42 a.m.
Sunport reports 90% fewer passengers

City officials say the Albuquerque International Sunport has seen “record-low” passenger activity amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Daily traffic has plunged almost 90%, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to avoid out-of-state travel when she declared a public health emergency on March 11, and the state Department of Health currently recommends that anyone who has traveled out of state self-isolate for 14 days to limit potential spread of coronavirus.

“We never like to see record low numbers when it comes to airport traffic, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, this is the best thing for our community and we appreciate that travelers are taking this seriously and staying home,” Albuquerque Mayor Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement about Sunport operations.

The Sunport is by far the state’s busiest airport and saw about 5.4 million passengers in fiscal year 2019.

While passenger traffic has plummeted, the airport remains open and has active cargo facilities for FedEx and UPS.

“Often people focus on the public facing sides of an airport – the travelers and airlines – it’s easy to forget the role airports play in the logistics of emergency operations by supporting state-wide response and providing a base for the distribution of supplies,” Nyika Allen, the city’s aviation director. “Our partnership with cargo air carriers, Kirtland Air Force Base, and our many tenants providing essential services is more important now than ever.”

— Jessica Dyer


11:36 a.m.
Kirtland Air Force Bases raises health protection level, adds restrictions

Kirtland Air Force Base raised its health protection level Tuesday and announced additional measures in response to the spread of COVID-19.

Installation Commander Col. David Miller said in a release that the measures would keep the base more in line with state and local authorities, as well as other Air Force installations and help maintain the installation’s national security missions.

Access to the base exchange and commissary has been reduced to active duty, retired personnel employed at Kirtland and base residents. The base pharmacies are still open to those who remain eligible.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Miller said in the release, “but a necessary one to reduce person-to-person contact, virus transmission, to preserve our vital Kirtland missions.”

The base is also limiting in-person meetings and extending work from home measures for non-essential personnel.

Movement has also been restricted for individuals who have recently traveled to impacted areas. Monday, the base announced three people – two military personnel and a spouse – had tested positive for COVID-19. The three had recently returned from traveling, and are in self-isolation.

— Scott Turner


9:38 a.m.
Heinrich calls for ACA marketplace enrollment reopening

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich is calling on the Trump administration to create a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“A special open enrollment period for individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act would allow people who need to purchase a health care plan a critical opportunity to do so,” the senator said. “We need to ensure New Mexico families are insured and able to receive critical and lifesaving health care, which is good for public health and makes things safer for entire communities.”

The normal enrollment period is in late fall.

The ACA was struck down in federal district court but is still in place pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to come later this year. The Trump administration is backing the lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys general challenging the law.

— Scott Turner


9:32 a.m.
UNM spring graduation commencement postponed

The University of New Mexico announced that it is postponing commencement for spring 2020 graduates.

UNM President Garnett Stokes made the announcement in an email to the university on Monday. The decision applies to all college and school ceremonies and related activities.

“I know that walking across the stage wearing your cap and gown to accept that hard-earned diploma is one of the most significant and memorable parts of the University experience,” she wrote. “We want to ensure that our Lobo class of 2020 is properly recognized and celebrated, especially under these particularly challenging conditions. In the coming weeks, we will engage our students to help develop a creative strategy to honor our spring graduates.”

The university is planning on having students complete their studies this semester remotely. Stokes said in her message that the university is committed to allowing students who are approaching graduation to be able to complete their degrees.

“Please know that we recognize the stress created by the transition to remote instruction and we continue to welcome ideas and feedback about how best to serve our students in their varying circumstances,” Stokes wrote.

— Ryan Boetel


9:27 a.m.
Sandoval County moves to dismiss its request to release some inmates

The Sandoval County attorney who last week asked a judge to order the release of all nonviolent and misdemeanor offenders from the county jail has now filed a motion to dismiss that request, saying the county has reduced its jail population to an acceptable level using other avenues.

A hearing set for Tuesday morning on the petition has been canceled.

When County Attorney Robin Hammer filed the petition for a writ of mandamus last week, 208 detainees were living at the Sandoval County Detention Center, but by Tuesday morning, that number had been reduced to 130. Hammer said the lower number allows the center to space detainees further apart, and in compliance with health mandates intended to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

The county was able to reach that number because the Bureau of Indian Affairs moved around 40 detainees to other facilities, 10 detainees were moved back to Valencia County, 10 were sent to the Metropolitan Detention Center because they had active warrants in Albuquerque, 18 detainees saw judges impose release conditions, and others completed their sentences.

Hammer’s motion to dismiss said that it is Sandoval County’s hope that for the duration of the public health crisis it can keep the population below 120 men and 48 women, which would allow each inmate to live in a separate cell.

Advocates have in recent weeks raised concerns over the potential for the virus to spread in a jail or prison, where people often live in close quarters

— Katy Barnitz


8:26 a.m.
Q & A for those applying for unemployment benefits

The number of New Mexicans applying for unemployment benefits skyrocketed last week as the fallout from COVID-19 and public health measures intended to contain it continue to rock the economy.

Here’s a Q&A for New Mexicans applying for benefits or considering applying, according to information from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Q: Who qualifies for unemployment as a result of COVID-19?

A: You may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you were laid off as a result of COVID-19 – for example, if your place of work had a significant lack of business due to the outbreak.

You may also be eligible if you are in self-quarantine, or have immediate family members who are self-quarantined.

Workers who had their hours significantly reduced may also be eligible, as long as their earnings from their employer are less than their weekly benefit amount.

Workers who quit out of fear of exposure are not eligible.

Q: How do I apply?

A: You can apply online atjobs.state.nm.us. You can also apply by calling 1-877-664-6984 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Q: How long does it take for benefits to start?

A: It takes a week for benefits to start, per a state-required waiting period. During your waiting week – the first eligible week for a new claim – no benefits will be received and that week will not be included in payments.

Q: What are the requirements to continue receiving benefits?

A: The work search requirement will be waived for up to the first four weeks. After applying, you must file a weekly certification for each week you are applying for benefits. Those certifications may be filed online or by phone.

Q: What amount will be on the check?

A: The amount is based on a percentage of the last 18 months of the filer’s earnings up to $461 per week. Those with dependents will receive a stipend for each dependent.

— Pilar Martinez


7:45 a.m.
Tokyo Olympics officially postponed until 2021

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Olympic Committee made the decision after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers.

Read more >>


6:46 a.m.
No delays in unemployment claim processing

Faced with an unprecedented spike in initial unemployment claims, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is working to keep pace and urging applicants to go to the department’s website to file their claims online.

“We are doing everything we can to make the system more efficient so we can get people their benefits,” Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said Monday.

McCamley said the department has not experienced any delays in handling unemployment requests – despite the more than tenfold increase in the number of requests last week.

Read more >>

— Stephen Hamway


6:35 a.m.
‘Basic’ retailers hope to survive state’s new shutdown order

Carol Campbell’s eyes were tearful Monday as she locked up ABQ Olive Oil Company on Albuquerque’s West Side – a painful move necessitated by a new state mandate.

“It’s likely we won’t survive this,” said Campbell, who owns the store and another location in the Northeast Heights with her husband Ralph.

Since the coronavirus emerged in New Mexico, Campbell has already laid off her five-person staff, including her grandson who managed the Heights location.

But Monday marked another difficult step.

State officials have ordered all except for “essential” businesses to close their offices and storefronts effective Tuesday.

Read more >>

— Jessica Dyer, Anthony Jackson, Katy Bartnitz, Pilar Martinez, Monica Roman Gagnier


6:05 a.m.
County Comission cancels Tuesday night meeting

The Bernalillo County Commission has canceled its scheduled administrative meeting set for Tuesday night.

“We just think it’s in the best interest of safety and social distancing and public health that we postpone it,” said commission chairman Lonnie Talbert, noting that the board’s meetings bring together more than five people, thus running counter to new state directives that restrict the size of gatherings across the state.

The elected, five-member county commission last week called an emergency meeting at which it approved new emergency powers that Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca could use if necessary to address the current coronavirus pandemic. With that authority now established, Talbert said he felt comfortable calling off Tuesday’s meeting.

The commission’s next meeting is April 14, but Talbert said he could call another emergency session before then if something requires immediate commission action.

— Jessica Dyer


6:05 a.m.
What businesses are essential?

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in New Mexico as the state works to limit the spread of COVID-19.

So, what business are essential? Here’s a list.

— Robert Browman



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