Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
Authorities not checking drivers for ‘essential’ travel
Authorities both local and statewide said Friday that they are not stopping drivers to make sure their travel is “essential” in the wake of the governor’s public health order.
“This is FALSE,” State Police spokesman Ray Wilson said. “The New Mexico State Police is not making traffic stops to ensure the public or their travel is considered essential.”
Wilson reiterated that people are allowed to leave their houses “while following the guidelines” of the governor’s order.
Connor Otero, a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said deputies are not pulling people over “simply to see” if they are “essential workers or if their travel is considered essential.”
Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said APD had been hearing the same rumors.
He said if a driver is stopped solely for the purpose of enforcing the governor’s order they should get the officer’s unit number and report the incident to the non-emergency line.
— Matthew Reisen
SFCC closed for semester, commencement postponed
Santa Fe Community College, and all its adjoining facilities, will be closed for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester, College President Becky Rowley announced in a written statement Friday.
The decision was made in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has forced the closure of many colleges and universities, including the University of Mexico and New Mexico State.
SFCC was originally scheduled to reopen April 6, but Rowley said the current spread of the virus made that impossible.
— Kyle Land
Coronavirus cases jump to 191 in NM
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Mexico exploded to 191 on Friday as 55 more people tested positive, state officials said.
It’s the biggest single-day surge announced so far, more than twice the previous high.
The number of virus patients hospitalized also jumped to 17, up from 13 the day before.
The Department of Health also repeated its warning that “given the infectious nature of the virus it is likely other residents are infected but yet to be tested or confirmed positive. To that end, all New Mexicans have been instructed to stay home except for outings absolutely necessary for health, safety and welfare.”
— Dan McKay
Lujan Grisham orders quarantine for air travelers
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered air travelers into New Mexico to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival Friday as the state tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
Her executive order also warns travelers that they face the possibility of “involuntary isolation” if they don’t comply, and she authorized the state Department of Public Health to screen, isolate and quarantine people covered by the order. The department, she said, was authorized to make temporary holds and seek court orders for isolation if necessary.
She cited the Public Health Emergency Response Act as authority for the order.
In a written statement, Lujan Grisham said most of New Mexico’s coronavirus cases are the result of interstate or international travel.
“Because some individuals infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms,” she said in the order, “travelers may be unaware they are carrying the virus. For this reason, persons arriving in New Mexico’s airports must self-isolate for a period of time sufficient to ensure that the public health and safety is not jeopardized.”
— Dan McKay
Trump seeks to force General Motors to produce ventilators
President Donald Trump issued an order Friday that seeks to force General Motors to produce ventilators for coronavirus patients under the Defense Production Act.
Trump said negotiations with General Motors had been productive, “but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.”
Trump said “GM was wasting time” and said his actions will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.
Experts say the U.S. is hundreds of thousands of breathing machines short of what it likely will need to treat a rapidly rising number of COVID-19 patients. New York, Michigan, Louisiana and the state of Washington have been singled out as virus hot spots in the U.S.
More than 31K have filed for unemployment in NM since March 19
The number of new unemployment claims continues to skyrocket in New Mexico, as more than 31,000 New Mexicans filed claims this week.
According to unofficial numbers released by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Friday morning, 31,849 initial claims were filed March 19-26. Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley called the spike in claims “unprecedented” while speaking at Mayor Tim Keller’s Friday briefing.
— Stephen Hamway
Optum launching 3 Fever Upper Respiratory Infection sites
A local medical group is offering patients worried that they are have COVID-19 a more in-depth evaluation.
Optum New Mexico announced Friday that it was launching three Fever Upper Respiratory Infection sites in the Albuquerque metro-area. Officials said in a news release that the sites are intended to compliment drive-through COVID-19 testing sites, where patients can stay in their call and give a sample that will be tested for the virus.
At the respiratory infection sites, people can receive additional treatment and a medical evaluation, according to the news release.
No other medical visits will take place Optum’s three respiratory infection sites, which are at its locations at Journal Center Urgent Care, Rio Rancho and Tramway.
The Journal Center location will be open from 7 a.m. To 5 p.m., seven days a week. The sites on Tramway and in Rio Rancho will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. To 4 p..m.
State health officials have said that anyone concerned they have COVID-19 first call the state coronavirus hotline before seeking a test.
— Ryan Boetel
NM public schools to stay closed for rest of year
School is out for summer, but distance learning efforts could be just beginning.
Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announced Friday that a statewide school closure will be extended for the rest of the current academic year, due to rising coronavirus infection rates.
“It’s quite clear that it’s not yet safe to bring our students back into school,” Stewart said in during a virtual news conference.
Public preschools and K-12 schools across the state were ordered to shut down effective March 16 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Students were initially scheduled to go back to school April 6, though the Governor’s Office warned — both early on and recently — that the closure could be for longer.
— Shelby Perea, Dan Boyd
ART service to be temporarily halted
As of Saturday, ART buses will be suspended from operating along the Central Avenue corridor, a victim of decreased ridership because of social distancing and stay-home mandates by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
But ART isn’t the only public transportation affected by safety measures put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. Other city bus routes, on-demand Sun Van runs and local taxi companies are all feeling the effects of reduced ridership.
Starting Monday, city buses will run Monday through Saturday on what had been the normally reduced Saturday schedule, Albuquerque Transit Department spokesman Rick De Reyes said. Sunday buses will stick to their normal, even leaner, schedule.
— Rick Nathanson, Matthew Reisen
Small changes, ‘huge difference’
Even a small change in how quickly infections spread throughout New Mexico could make a stunning difference in the state’s coronavirus outbreak, a state health official says.
But it’s too soon to determine how well the state’s stay-at-home instruction has succeeded in slowing the growth of COVID-19 infections, though there are signs that people are going out less, according to the state.
Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department, said the math behind the spread of infections demonstrates the potential effectiveness of social-distancing strategies, such as staying at home and limiting trips to essential outings.
If each person with COVID-19 gives it to about one fewer person than they otherwise would, for example, it could add up to thousands of fewer cases in time, he said.
“It’s a huge difference,” Scrase told the Journal.
— Dan McKay
400-plus noncompliance calls fielded by law enforcement
Has Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order for the closure of nonessential businesses and banning congregations of more than five people fallen on deaf ears? Or are some people just confused?
New Mexico State Police have responded to more than 300 complaints of noncompliance since the governor’s order took effect Tuesday. Albuquerque police reported another 100 or so more.
People also have taken to social media, including to the governor’s Facebook page, and emails to the Journal to complain about smoke shops, hobby supply stores and estate sale companies that are continuing to hold sales where people may be congregating.
Several times the governor’s office has intervened to demand closure.
— Colleen Heild, Matthew Reisen
PED: School closures to be extended
Schools will stay closed for longer than initially planned, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. But the state hadn’t said how long as of Thursday afternoon.
In an online social media posting, the education department said that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart and the state Department of Health would formally announce an extension to school closures and provide more information on Friday morning.
— Shelby Perea