Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
New court order protects more people from eviction
The State Supreme Court has expanded its temporary halt on evictions to cover New Mexicans who are unable to pay rent on land where they have parked their mobile home, according to a news release.
The court earlier in the week issued a temporary stop to evictions for inability to pay rent, which applied to people who rent apartments or other dwellings. Thursday’s order was necessary because different provisions of state law apply to people who rent mobile home lots.
“Temporarily preventing evictions from being carried out because of a person’s inability to pay rent will help families and individuals follow the governor’s directive to remain in their homes to help guard against the spread of COVID-19,” Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Barry Massey said in the news release.
— Katy Barnitz
Coronavirus cases surge to 136
The number of coronavirus cases in New Mexico climbed to 136 on Thursday, as 24 more people tested positive, according to the state Department of Health.
It’s the biggest one-day increase in confirmed cases so far — a sign that the outbreak is continuing to grow in New Mexico.
The state also revealed that 13 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico. Just one person has died so far — an Eddy County man in his 70s with chronic underlying health conditions.
New Mexico officials are urging people to stay home to slow the spread of the disease, and they have ordered the closure of schools and non-essential businesses.
The state has said it is working to update the number of people who have recovered from the virus, but it hasn’t released any figures yet.
— Dan McKay
Professional visits suspended at Youth Services Center
The Youth Services Center says it is suspending professional, in-person visits to the detention facility by attorneys, probation officers and others.
Face-to-face family visitations were put on hold earlier this month and phone visits were expanded.
“The Bernalillo County Youth Services Center is doing everything possible to prevent the COVID-19 virus from entering the facility,” director Craig Sparks said in a news release Thursday. “That requires us to strictly limit access to our facility.”
The facility is instead making arrangements for video conferencing. And exceptions can be made to the suspension, but those exceptions will require “stringent medical screening,” according to the news release.
— Katy Barnitz
Handful of school health centers keep doors open
Four school-based health centers in Albuquerque Public Schools are open amid school closures.
While schools in New Mexico were shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, the expectation from the state was that health centers and meal services would continue operations as families rely on these resources.
In APS, four of its 11 clinics will remain open at Rio Grande High School, Emerson Elementary School, Grant Middle School and Atrisco Heritage High School.
APS spokeswoman Johanna King said these locations stayed open because they have a separate entrance from the school and the providers determined they could continue services.
To make an appointment, check hours or see what services are offered, go to aps.edu.
Website seeks volunteers to help medical workers with day-to-day chores
A new website hopes to link Albuquerque health care workers with volunteers willing to lend a hand with day-to-day chores during the current coronavirus pandemic.
CoronaCare NM allows citizens to volunteer to help front-line medical personnel and hospital staff by running errands, child care, pet sitting, cooking or providing other assistance.
Health care workers and volunteers can sign up to be matched through “the power of technology and medical student volunteers,” according to the website, coronacarenm.com.
“As a former paramedic and emergency room employee, I know how hard it can be after long hours to take care of loved ones, yourself or cook,” CoronaCare NM’s founder David Gangwish said in a news release. “We hope our community members can help these valued members of society through this difficult time.”
— Jessica Dyer
PED: School closures to be extended
Schools will stay closed for longer than initially planned, according to the state Public Education Department.
The department announced on social media that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and others would be announcing an extension to the closures on Friday. More details are expected after Friday morning’s formal announcement.
“The final determination of the extent of the closure period will be made this evening after reviewing extensive cross-agency plans,” the PED said on Twitter.
— Shelby Perea
Picture: New Mexico during the coronavirus outbreak
— Anthony Jackson
Metro Court makes adjustments in the wake of COVID-19
Metropolitan Court’s chief judge says the courthouse is doing what it can to help more people handle their court business from afar.
The court is accepting fine and fee payments over the phone, they’re holding as many court hearings as possible via phone and video conference and they’re reminding litigants that some civil money disputes can be handled online.
“Our courtrooms are virtually empty, but due to our technology we are able to still carry on and hold court proceedings,” Chief Judge Sandra Engel said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Hearings involving people who are not in jail are being held remotely, and parties, witnesses and the public can call in in order to attend.
People who do have to physically get into the courthouse can rest assured the courthouse is being kept clean, and visitors are asked a series of screening questions about COVID-19 symptoms and exposure before they are allowed into the courthouse, Engel said.
Call 505-841-8151 for more information.
— Katy Barnitz
Albuquerque to lift plastic bag ban for 30 days
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the city will temporarily lift its ban on plastic bags in an effort to make things “easier” for retailers and consumers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You can use any kind of bag you want” to shop, Keller said during a media briefing Thursday morning.
The city is lifting the ban for 30 days, but the city not only intends to reinstate it but strengthen it later this year, Keller said. He said the ultimate goal is to prohibit the “end runs” some retailers have done around the ordinance by instead distributing heavier plastic bags.
— Jessica Dyer
MDC works to release medically vulnerable, nonviolent inmates
The Metropolitan Detention Center has begun to release inmates considered to be vulnerable to coronavirus, according to a Bernalillo County news release.
The announcement comes as advocates around the state have asked detention facilities to consider taking steps to reduce jail populations in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
MDC has compiled a list of 86 inmates considered medically risky. Of those, 46 are in custody on violent charges and are ineligible for release.
— Katy Barnitz
UNM leaders to host virtual town hall on coronavirus
Leaders at the University of New Mexico will be hosting a virtual town hall on Friday afternoon to talk and answer questions about the school’s response to the coronavirus.
UNM is holding online courses only for the rest of the semester but officials have said they are committed to finding ways for students to complete this year’s studies. The school has also asked students to move out of most on-campus housing to prevent the virus from spreading.
UNM President Garnet Stokes, Provost James Holloway, Dr. Paul Roth, the chancellor for Health Sciences, Teresa Costantinidis, the senior vice president for Finance and Administration, and other administrators and health officials will be answering questions that are submitted by 9 a.m. Friday.
The town hall begin at noon on Friday. Details for how to access the forum and submit questions are available here.
— Ryan Boetel
SF DA’s office cleaned after public defender diagnosed with COVID-19
The 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office is currently undergoing a deep cleaning after a public defender was diagnosed with COVID-19 Tuesday night.
Several workers in full-body hazmat suits could be seen getting ready to enter the building.
Mike Martinez of AAA Restoration and Construction Services, the company performing the deep clean, said they would be “fogging” the entire building and wiping down all surfaces.
“We are doing a preventative fogging and wipe down for the coronavirus,” he said.
Martinez said the Office hired them to clean the building after Public Defender Jenn Burrill was diagnosed with COVID-19. He said Burrill had been at the District Attorney’s Office before she was diagnosed.
— Kyle Land
Heinrich: More tests, supplies on the way to New Mexico
New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich said Thursday that TriCore Reference Laboratories will be receiving 18,000 tests from Abbott Laboratories, which he said should increase New Mexico’s testing capacity substantially.
The senator also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is shipping a second allotment of personal protective equipment to the state for hospitals and health care personnel from the national stockpile.
“That should arrive Monday,” he said during a press call with members of the state media.
He said lawmakers are urging the federal government to ramp up manufacturing to backfill the national stockpile.
— Scott Turner
Navajo Nation cases increase by more than 40% Wednesday to 69
The number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus among Navajo Nation residents increased by 20 late Wednesday, a jump of more than 40 percent in one day, bringing the total to 69.
The cases include 12 people on the New Mexico side of the reservation – four people in McKinley County seven people in San Juan County and one in Cibola County — as well as 57 people on the Arizona side, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reported in a release.
The 69 cases, when factored against the Navajo Nation’s total reported population of about 350,000, is more than 19 infections per 100,000 people, and not all tribal members live on the reservation. This is nearly four times New Mexico’s rate of infection.
New Mexico has 112 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.
“We will fight and eventually beat this virus together, but we need everyone to take it seriously, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez wrote in the release. “There’s no need to be out in public unless you’re in need of food, medication, or other essential items.”
Rhino Health, a glove manufacturing company in the Navajo community of Church Rock, NM, is producing millions of protective gloves for health care workers and first responders on the reservation and across the country, according to tribal leadership.
“We are very proud to see Navajo-made products making a huge difference for the better during this pandemic,” Vice President Myron Lizer wrote in a release.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center can be reached at (928) 871-7014.
— Robert Browman
Public defender tests positive for COVID-19
A public defender representing clients in the 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe has tested positive for COVID-19.
The attorney, 48-year-old Jennifer Burrill, was confirmed to have the virus Tuesday night.
In a phone interview Wednesday night, Burrill said she has a sharp pain in her lungs, but few other symptoms. She is at her Santa Fe home with two other family members, but plans to continue working while at home.
“I’m going to keep working to try to get my clients out of jail,” she said, adding that she thinks it’s outrageous that so many of them – particularly those accused of non-violent offenses – are still there. “It’s ridiculous that upwards of 50% on the jail population are there for drug and alcohol crimes. It’s ridiculous that they are still in jail.”
Burrill said she hasn’t felt right physically for several weeks now, but she has not run a fever. Her symptoms were a mild headache and cough, but she continued to go to work because she didn’t have a fever.
— T.S. Last
City providing relief at four public centers
People who have various needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis may be able to get relief at one of four Health and Social Services Centers in Albuquerque.
Each quadrant of the city has a center, and each has been designated a “mission critical” facility, Deputy Director of Public Health Gilbert Ramirez said during the mayor’s Tuesday coronavirus news conference.
Among the services and items provided are monthly food boxes, limited supplies of diapers and hygiene products, and a clothing bank.
The centers also have an eviction prevention program funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The centers are John Marshall, 1500 Walter SE, 848-1345; Alamosa, 6900 Gonzales SW, 836-8800; Los Griegos, 1231 Candelaria NW, 761-4050; and East Central, 7525 Zuni SE, 767-5700.
— Rick Nathanson
Udall: State to receive up to $1.25B through $2T coronavirus legislation
New Mexico is expected to receive up to $1.25 billion for state and local governments to fight the coronavirus through a $2 trillion congressional stimulus package, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said in a floor speech Wednesday ahead of a Senate vote on the legislation.
He called the legislation a “good compromise” that included changes he and fellow New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich backed to the original plan pushed by Senate Republicans.
The state’s senior senator said changes included an extra month of unemployment insurance for workers laid off by the outbreak, additional funding for small business loans, more money for health care and funding for tribal governments.
— Scott Turner
NMSBIC approves $25M for low-cost loans
The New Mexico Small Business Investment Corp. is making $25 million immediately available to local lenders at zero percent interest to help channel low-cost credit to small businesses struggling under the coronavirus.
It’s unclear what interest rate lenders will ultimately charge borrowers, but by providing no-cost loans to them, the NMSBIC hopes to make urgently needed cash available at below-normal rates for businesses during the crisis, said NMSBIC President and Board Chair Joseph Badal.
— Kevin Robinson-Avila
516 Arts to distribute $60K in relief grants
As the economy collapses in the grip of the COVID-19, artists have watched their incomes plummet overnight.
On Wednesday, 516 ARTS announced it would distribute $60,000 in emergency relief grants to local artists from its Fulcrum Fund grant program. Sixty chosen artists will receive $1,000 in grant money in partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
A non-collecting visual arts space, 516 ARTS has received grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the past five years. It is one of just 14 sites in the U.S. selected by the organization.
— Kathleen Roberts
Udall praises governor for stay at home order
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., praised New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday for measures she has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the stay at home order she issued earlier this week.
The state’s senior senator acknowledged the order was difficult for residents, but he said such measures were “a fire break” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“I commend Gov. (Michelle) Lujan Grisham for the quick and decisive action she has taken,” Udall said during a speech urging his colleagues to pass the coronavirus response stimulus package. “She is focused on this like a laser beam.”
— Scott Turner
Senate unanimously passes massive coronavirus aid plan
The Senate passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The unanimous vote Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.
The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.