Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
TriCore gets instrument to double testing capacity
TriCore Reference Laboratories announced Monday it had added a high capacity instrument that doubles its COVID-19 coronavirus testing capacity to 1,000 tests per day.
TriCore is currently delivering a five-day turn-around time for COVID-19 tests and is urging anyone awaiting test results from a clinic or high-capacity collection center to continue to self-quarantine until those results are available.
“This week’s increased capacity allows us to more efficiently meet the needs of both hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients in New Mexico,” said Dr. Doug Clark, chief medical officer at TriCore.
Since March 12, TriCore has performed more than 4,000 COVID-19 tests. Additionally, as part of the screening for the COVID-19 virus, TriCore has performed more than 6,000 tests for other respiratory pathogens including influenza and RSV.
— Rick Nathanson
Number of positive cases in NM rises to 112
The state Department of Health said the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now up to 112, following 13 more positive tests Wednesday and the removal of an earlier case that was a clerical error.
Public health officials also said it’s likely others have the virus, too, but haven’t been tested.
Earlier in the day, officials reported that the first death in New Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak is an Eddy County man in his 70s with chronic underlying health conditions.
A hospital official said the man had declined to be tested for COVID-19 a week earlier and had denied having had a fever or respiratory symptoms when he arrived at the emergency room Sunday.
The man — whose name wasn’t released — died Monday at Artesia General Hospital. Test results came in late Tuesday confirming that he’d had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
— Dan McKay
Governor bans all ‘non-essential’ surgeries
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham banned health care facilities in New Mexico from performing “non-essential” surgeries and other procedures that can be postponed for three months without putting the patient’s health at risk.
The governor cited a shortage of protective gear for first responders, nurses and doctors dealing with the coronavirus as the reason for the ban.
Supplies have been running low, Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
The order applies to hospitals, day-surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and other health care facilities. It requires non-essential procedures to be delayed for three months.
The order doesn’t apply to emergency surgeries, prenatal or postnatal care and other procedures that if delayed would cause permanent damage to the patient or otherwise threaten their health.
“We’re going to do everything we can – everything – to protect those on the front line of this war against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said in a release announcing the order.
— Mike Gallagher
Picture: City puts up “closed” signs in Albuquerque parks
— Adolphe Pierre-Louis
State to begin using emergency alert system
New Mexico officials will begin sending alerts directly to residents through the State’s Emergency Operations Center, according to a release by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office.
The notifications will come via text messages, and appear on television and radio, much like Amber Alerts do for missing children, the release said.
“The system is intended to disseminate important information widely and as quickly as possible and is not a cause for alarm,” the governor’s office wrote.
The state plans to send the first alert around 12:30 p.m. today, the release said.
“Messages will state essential public information from the Department of Health, Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and Governor’s Office regarding important public health guidance and instruction, such as the recent instruction to remain at home except for outings essential to health, safety and welfare,” the release read.
— Robert Browman
Eddy County man is NM’s first coronavirus death
New Mexico announced its first COVID-19 death Wednesday — an Eddy County man in his 70s with underlying health conditions.
The man died Sunday at Artesia General Hospital. A test confirmed later in the week that he had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I ask all New Mexicans to include the sick and their families in their prayers – as well as the health care workers and those others on the front lines helping protect us from this disease,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a written statement.
— Dan McKay
Udall: Coronavirus response package includes provisions for tribes
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall said the Senate coronavirus response package expected to be voted on today includes provisions for tribes and urban Indian health programs.
“Tribes are on the front lines of this public health crisis, and they have been very clear that they need health, economic, and community COVID-19 recovery resources. That is why I’ve pushed for inclusion of Tribal-specific resources and policies,” said Udall, who is vice chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs. “I’m proud that I was able to work with my Senate Democratic colleagues to fight for important tribal-specific provisions to improve this urgent legislation.”
The legislation will establish an $8 billion Tribal Government Relief fund to ensure Indian tribes have direct “one stop” access to COVID-19 resources for economic recovery and continuation of essential government services based on local needs, Udall’s office said.
The agreement also contains more than $2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for Indian tribes, urban Indian health programs and Native communities, including:
$1.032 billion for the Indian Health Service, with funds put in the field through tribal shares and urban organizations;
$453 million for operation of essential tribal government programs funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, such as public safety and purchase of protective equipment for emergency personnel;
$69 million for the Bureau of Indian Education.
— Scott Turner
Rate of infection on Navajo Nation is nearly 3 times New Mexico’s
Ten more people tested positive for COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases on the reservation to 49, a rate of infection three times that of New Mexico’s.
The cases include six people on the New Mexico side of the reservation – four people from McKinley County and two people from San Juan County — as well as 43 people on the Arizona side, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reported on social media.
The reservation’s 49 cases, when factored against its reported of population of about 350,000, is nearly three times that of New Mexico’s.
New Mexico has 100 positive cases in a reported population of a little more than 2 million.
Residents on the reservation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, remain under an emergency stay-at-home order.
Nez’s office issued a release earlier in the day announcing the number had reached 39. A few hours later, he reported the number had increased by 10 to 49.
In the release, Nez directed residents to stay at home 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, first 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
White House, Congress agree on $2 trillion virus rescue bill
The White House and Senate leaders of both parties announced agreement early Wednesday on an unprecedented $2 trillion emergency bill to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The urgently needed measure is the largest economic rescue bill in history. It is intended as a weekslong or monthslong patch for an economy spiraling into recession — or worse — and a nation facing a potentially ghastly toll.
Virus hits young and old alike across NM
The coronavirus outbreak ripping through the state is now hitting people of all ages and reaching communities far from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The rapid growth and demographic spread aren’t surprising, public health officials said Tuesday. They also underscore the importance of New Mexicans adhering to the state’s instruction to stay at home, officials said, which could prevent thousands of infections.
— Dan McKay
Local farms offer fresh produce during virus outbreak
Local growers are taking on the added responsibility of continuing to supply fresh produce to New Mexicans amid the COVID-19 outbreak that has limited restaurants to takeout, strained grocery store supplies and postponed farmers’ markets.
“Farms thrive on community, and we’re all really coming together,” said Andrea Romero of Tierra Sagrada Farm in Bernalillo. “Working with the earth and having as few hands as possible touch our produce feels good right now.”
Farms and ranches are among the essential businesses exempt from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order closing businesses termed nonessential statewide. And Tierra Sagrada is one of many businesses expanding its Community Supported Agriculture services, which allow customers to buy directly from local farms and receive produce by pickup or delivery.
— Theresa Davis
Sunport ‘an absolute ghost town’ due to virus
On Monday, 854 passengers boarded airplanes at the Albuquerque International Sunport, according to preliminary data.
That’s 88% fewer than the same day in 2019.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Tuesday called the city-owned airport “an absolute ghost town.”
— Jessica Dyer
Sandoval County moves to dismiss inmate release request
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 filed a motion to dismiss the request, saying the county has reduced its jail population to an acceptable level using other avenues.
When County Attorney Robin Hammer filed the petition last week, 208 detainees were housed at the Sandoval County Detention Center, but by Monday evening, that number had been reduced to 130, largely by moving inmates to other facilities. The lower number allows the center to space detainees farther apart, in compliance with health mandates intended to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
A hearing set for Tuesday morning on the petition was canceled, and the case has been dismissed. A spokeswoman for the city of Rio Rancho, which had raised concerns about the proposal, said the city is satisfied with the outcome and will work with the county to mitigate risks at the jail.
— Katy Barnitz
UNM postpones commencement ceremonies
Late Monday, UNM President Garnett Stokes announced that the school is postponing commencement for spring 2020 graduates.
Stokes, while announcing that the May 16 ceremony would be postponed, said the school is committed to celebrating its 2020 graduating class at some point. Last year, the spring graduation celebrated nearly 4,000 students, ranging from those who earned an associate degree to new doctors graduating from medical school.
“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,” Stokes 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.”
— Ryan Boetel