Editor’s note: This post includes updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
UNM students can opt out of letter grades
About 98% of University of New Mexico courses are ready to be done remotely, and students will be able to opt out of letter grades – and either pass or fail each class – for the rest of the school year.
On the health sciences side of campus, leaders meet daily to talk about the virus, and the hospital has postponed hundreds of elective procedures to free up capacity in case it has a surge of COVID-19 patients.
UNM leaders held a virtual town hall Friday afternoon during which they talked about the various ways that the coronavirus pandemic has affected UNM, and how the school has responded. That made for a wide-ranging conversation for an institution that includes the state’s flagship university and only Level 1 trauma center.
For academics, UNM has already announced that coursework would be done remotely for the rest of the semester and commencement would be postponed. Provost James Holloway said nearly all coursework is set up for remote instruction, and the school launched programs to lend students laptop computers and provide them with grants for internet access.
— Ryan Boetel
17 new COVID-19 cases, 2nd death reported in NM
The state reported 17 additional cases of COVID-19 and a second death on Saturday as dozens have reportedly recovered from the virus.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said a Bernalillo County man in his 80s died Friday after being hospitalized for the virus.
She said the man “had multiple chronic underlying health conditions.”
There are now a total of 208 cases of the novel coronavirus statewide.
Of the new cases, 11 were in Bernalillo County, three in Chaves County and one each in Doña Ana, Eddy and San Juan counties. There are currently 19 people hospitalized for the virus across the state.
“This number may include individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico.” Meyers Sackett said.
She also said that, so far, 26 people have recovered from COVID-19.
Friday saw the state’s largest spike in cases with 55 being reported, a 40% jump, and hospitalized patients increasing from 13 to 17.
— Matt Reisen
2 deaths as Navajo Nation virus cases jump to 92
As the number of Navajo Nation cases of COVID-19 increased by nearly 30% Friday, tribal health officials announced two deaths related to the virus.
There was no information provided about the people who died, but they are the first since the virus was reported on the reservation on March 17.
Since then, the number of people infected has skyrocketed to 92, with the most recent 21 cases announced by the Navajo Nation president’s office Friday night.
“Our condolences and prayers go out to the families of the two individuals who have passed on,” President Jonathan Nez wrote in a release. “We also pray for all of those who are fighting to recover from the virus.”
The Navajo Nation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has about 350,000 members. While not all of them live on the reservation, the number of reported cases brings the rate of infection to more than 26 per 100,000 members.
This is nearly three times New Mexico’s rate of infection, which has 191 cases in a reported population of a little more than 2 million.
Seventy three of the Navajo cases are on the Arizona side of the reservation, while 17 are in New Mexico and two in Utah.
Residents on the reservation were told to stay at home more than a week ago in an emergency order on March 20.
Nez continues to ask people to follow the order.
“Our public safety officers are needed in our communities every day, and we don’t want to have to take them away from those duties to force people to stay home – we don’t have to go to that extent if people simply listen to the health care experts,” he wrote in the release.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center can be reached at (928) 871-7014.
— Robert Browman
Access to technology varies across school districts
As schools work on uprooting the way they teach children due to school closures, shifting to exclusively online instruction isn’t a reality for many New Mexican districts.
Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announced Friday that statewide school closures will be extended for the rest of the current academic year, due to rising coronavirus infection rates. But students will still be taught without in-person instruction – an effort that will look different depending on where children go to school.
The PED is not requiring districts to use a wholly virtual learning model. Stewart said districts and charters will be creating plans to continue learning and those plans will address how instruction will get to students – physically, digitally or both.
Accessibility is a big hurdle districts face, because not all students have access to the internet or to computers. There are also logistics to iron out with printed lessons, such as making sure all students obtain the resources.
— Shelby Perea, Kyle Land
State pension funds take billion-dollar hits
New Mexico’s two large public retirement systems have already taken billion-dollar hits from a steep market downturn caused by actions taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the leaders of both pension funds say investment portfolio changes made in recent years have positioned the funds to ride out the storm – however long it lasts – and keep paying out benefits to retirees.
“We’ve lost money – every investor has – but we could have lost a lot more money if we hadn’t taken a more defensive position,” said Wayne Propst, executive director of the Public Employees Retirement Association.
He said the retirement fund’s value has dropped from about $16 billion in January to about $14 billion as of this week, though the market is fluctuating daily.
But only about 35% of the pension fund is invested in equities, with the rest in bonds, alternative investments and a healthy amount kept available in cash.
— Dan Boyd
Virus puts nonemergency health care on hold
If you need to see your primary care physician, his or her office should be up and running.
But if you were scheduled to have your teeth cleaned, your eyes checked, your spine adjusted, cataracts removed or were gearing up for a routine colonoscopy, you’re going to have to wait.
Many medical providers ranging from dentists to eye surgeons to chiropractors have been restricting their practices for the past three weeks in an attempt to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.
In some cases, certain procedures are banned for the next three months – unless delay would seriously affect the patient’s health – under an order issued Wednesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham designed to conserve supplies of protective gear.
Some providers have closed completely, while others have restricted clients to emergencies only.
— Mike Gallagher
Though a spreading coronavirus has turned the world upside down, leading to business closures and stay-at-home orders, a bike ride in the bosque or a jog in the foothills is still, well, the same as it’s always been.
And it appears many residents are flocking to the great outdoors for a sense of normalcy. Trailheads in Albuquerque the past two weeks appear to be drawing large numbers of people.
“Everyone is keeping social distance, and you don’t see people in groups of five or more. But there are just tons of people,” said Glenn Maxwell, a retired Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was getting set for a bike ride on the Paseo del Bosque Trail from the Alameda Open Space parking lot Wednesday afternoon. “They’ve got to get out and feel normal about something.”
— Ryan Boetel
City, shelter, adjusting ways to care for homeless due to COVID-19
A little more than two weeks after the state began seriously grappling with the spread of COVID-19, city officials say they’ve identified at least one homeless person who has tested positive for the virus.
Lisa Huval, the deputy director of the city’s housing and homelessness efforts, said she was told Friday evening that medical staff were transporting someone to the Westside Emergency Housing Center to stay in isolation. She said she doesn’t know anything about where the person came from or who else the individual might have had contact with prior to being isolated.
The positive test comes as advocates tweak their procedures for minimizing the risk of spreading the virus among the homeless population.
Huval said the city and Heading Home — the nonprofit that runs the Westside Emergency Housing Center — initially hoped to be able to screen everyone before they were bused 20 miles out to the facility.
But it turned out there weren’t enough Medical Reserve Corp. volunteers or thermometers to do so.
— Elise Kaplan
Health care leaders in NM to address COVID-19 readiness
New Mexico has taken bold steps in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools are closed. Many business have been shut down as nonessential. Court hearings are being done by video. Nonessential surgical procedures have been banned to conserve medical supplies and equipment. Dental offices, eye doctors and others will see only those patients with an emergency. Hospitals have been gearing up for an anticipated surge in patients.
People want accurate information from authoritative sources.
In an effort to provide that information about the health care system at this time, some of the top leaders of New Mexico’s medical establishment have agreed to a 90-minute, livestream panel interview on Wednesday. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. and conclude at 8 p.m.
Panelists will include Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department; Dale Maxwell, president and CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services; Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor for Health Sciences and CEO of the UNM Health System; and Ron Stern, president and CEO of Lovelace Health System.
Journal Senior Editor Kent Walz will moderate.
The session will stream live on ABQJournal.com.
The Journal is inviting readers to submit questions that could be asked of our panel. Please limit them to general policy issues and do not include any specific cases or individuals. If you would like to submit a question for consideration, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.