Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of the state.
COVID-19 cases increase by 62 on Navajo Nation
There are 488 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation as of Wednesday night, according to numbers released by the Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Navajo Epidemiology Center. There are now 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, up three from Tuesday’s reports. The Navajo Nation is reporting 2,221 negative test results.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the numbers are alarming, but he and other leaders are hopeful that the upcoming weekend-long curfew will curb the spread of COVID-19 on the reservation.
“Now is the time to get prepared for the 57-hour curfew,” Vice President Myron Lizer said. “If you need groceries, medication, or other necessary items we urge you to take every precaution and please only send one family member to purchase items — do not take children into stores or public places. Let’s also continue to pray for everyone who is fighting along with us.”
President Nez and Vice President Lizer will host an online town hall COVID-19 update Thursday at 10 a.m. The update will be streamed on the president’s Facebook page and will be aired on KTNN 660AM and 101.5FM at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center number is (928) 871-7014, and the Navajo mental health helpline is (928) 810-7357.
— Theresa Davis
APS board to appoint interim superintendent
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Albuquerque Public Schools has shifted gears in its superintendent search, deciding to suspend the hunt until the fall and to appoint an interim leader in the meantime.
Before the coronavirus hit New Mexico, the state’s largest school district was in the middle of finding a replacement for current Superintendent Raquel Reedy, who is set to retire in June. The Board of Education even named five semifinalists.
But that was put on hold while the state and district grappled with the pandemic.
On Tuesday night, the board voted 5-2 to find someone to head the district for the short term.
— Shelby Perea
NM announces 3 more deaths, 72 new cases in virus outbreak
The coronavirus pandemic killed three more people in New Mexico, state officials said Wednesday, pushing the state’s death toll to 16.
The state also confirmed 72 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Altogether, 865 people have now tested positive.
The deaths announced Wednesday are all adults in Bernalillo County, at least in their 80s or older and with chronic underlying health conditions.
— Dan McKay
Udall seeks aid for local journalism, media outlets
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is among 20 senators calling for financial relief for local journalism and media outlets, which are facing financial hardship during the coronavirus outbreak.
The senators seek the relief in any future COVID-19 response package.
In a letter to Senate leadership, the senators warn that the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – including falling advertising revenue – could decimate regional and local news outlets even as communities depend on the reporting during the public health crisis.
Some New Mexico media outlets have been forced to lay off staff, cut hours and pay, and limit publications and operations due to a drop in commercial advertising revenue, Udall’s office said in a news release.
The papers are struggling because of an advertising market dramatically impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many businesses have reduced operations and advertising and a record number of New Mexicans filed applications for unemployment benefits, his office said.
“The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” the senators wrote. “Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized. Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders. During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information.”
— Scott Turner
State offers stimulus to 2,000 self-employed New Mexicans
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is offering a one-time stimulus payment for self-employed New Mexicans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department is offering a payment of $750 to the first 2,000 individuals who qualify, funded by $1.5 million from the Rapid Response Layoff Aversion program under the directive of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, according to a news release.
To be eligible, applicants must be self-employed, must not be currently collecting unemployment insurance benefits, be able to provide proof of U.S. citizenship and New Mexico residency and have a bank account that can accept a direct deposit, among other criteria. Those who can apply include musicians and artists with cancelled shows, contract massage therapists at health spas and food truck operators, rideshare drivers and more, according to the release.
To apply, create an individual account on www.jobs.state.nm.us and click on the link for the program located on their “My Workforce Connection” page. Applicants are expected to provide account information for their financial institution, along with personal information, proof of residency and work authorization documents where applicable, according to the release.
— Gabrielle Porter
Gila Medical Center to receive $6.8 million advance Medicare payment
Gila Medical Center will receive more than $6.8 million in an advance Medicare payment to help it continue to operate during the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small announced Wednesday.
The funding is expected to be delivered by the end of the week.
“Rural hospitals like Gila Regional Medical Center are absolutely essential to the health of their communities,” Heinrich said. “It is critical that we do everything possible to keep these hospitals afloat during this crisis and I am proud of the collaboration with Congresswoman Torres Small to secure this loan that will provide a significant infusion of resources for this hospital.”
“Thanks to strong communication with Gila Regional, funds included the CARES Act, and good teamwork to highlight the situation with CMS, we were able to help secure over $6.8 million in funding that will allow GRMC to stay open and continue treating patients,” Torres Small added.”
Both were among members of Congress who sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging the administration to provide immediate financial assistance to rural hospitals.
“We are hearing from rural hospitals from across the country that have only days left of cash-on-hand – money needed for payroll and supplies,” the lawmakers wrote.
— Scott Turner
Lujan campaign texting support for food bank
Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s U.S. Senate campaign has been using peer-to-peer texting to whip up support during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The campaign will be using the method for non-political purposes this week.
Starting Thursday, the campaign is launching a virtual text drive to encourage New Mexicans to support Roadrunner Food Bank. The campaign is hoping to reach 15,500 people.
The campaign will ask its entire in-state fundraising list, to consider supporting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s All Together NM Fund. This fund will be used to address immediate needs and offer long-term support for New Mexican communities grappling with COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has put immense stress on our communities and families over the past month,” volunteer DeChellie Gray said. “Many families are not only worried about their health — and the health of their loved ones — but are also struggling to put food on the table.”
— Scott Turner
Racetrack donates $2 million for food banks, charities
New Mexico charities and food banks will share a $2 million donation from the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino and the Stanley E. Fulton Family Foundation, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced this week.
The gift is intended to assist New Mexicans in those areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
“In times like these, it is important that we all come together as New Mexicans to help those that are most vulnerable,” said Rick Baugh, general manager of Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino.
Mike Fulton, son of the late racetrack founder Stanley Fulton, said his father would be pleased to know that “the foundation he established is following his lead in giving back to this great state.”
Lujan Grisham said she was “immensely grateful every single day when I hear stories of generosity and compassion from all across the state as we grapple with this pandemic.”
The donation “will make a significant difference in our efforts to shore up local charities and food insecurity amid this crisis,” the governor said.
Distribution of the donation will be overseen by the All Together New Mexico Fund, which was established by the New Mexico Coalition of Community Foundations to address immediate needs and offer long-term support in the wake of the virus crisis.
“New Mexicans everywhere are stepping up for their neighbors, for their
communities,” Lujan Grisham said. “It is an inspiring reminder that, even amid dark circumstances, the light of our people will shine through.”
— Rick Nathanson
Washington model trims NM death projection
SANTA FE — A University of Washington statistical model now projects substantially fewer coronavirus deaths in New Mexico as social distancing and other strategies take hold.
The latest update estimates the virus will kill 394 New Mexicans through late May, down from earlier projections that exceeded 600 deaths. The number fluctuates periodically as more information on the spread of the virus emerges.
At one point last month, for example, the forecast estimated 513 deaths in New Mexico.
Top health officials in New Mexico say the Washington model is optimistic. They say New Mexico is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of high rates of liver disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
State officials released their own modeling last week that estimated roughly 2,100 to 4,700 deaths over the next 12 months. They cautioned that the ultimate death toll will depend on how quickly the disease actually spreads.
— Dan McKay
Volunteer power could yield federal funds
Albuquerque officials say your volunteer hours can bring money back into the community.
Under Mayor Tim Keller’s existing coronavirus-related public health emergency declaration, the city can request resources through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
“FEMA can reimburse state and local governments’ qualifying volunteer activities at a rate of $25.43 per hour. This money can help the pandemic recovery effort, but only if the hours are logged by volunteers,” the city said in a news release.
To log volunteer hours, go online to https://www.oneabqvolunteers.com/.
— Jessica Dyer
2 Farmington nursing home residents, 7 employees test positive for coronavirus
Two residents of Life Care Center of Farmington nursing home and seven employees at the facility have tested positive for coronavirus COVID-19.
According to a press release sent by Life Care Centers of America, after two residents tested positive for COVID-19 at Life Care Center of Farmington, all residents of the facility were tested for COVID-19. Those test results are currently pending.
The press release states that 95% of the Life Care Center of Farmington employees had been tested as of April 6.
— The Daily Times
City putting more buses on Central
A week after trimming public transit service due to waning demand, the city of Albuquerque is returning more buses to Central Avenue.
Officials say ABQ Ride is adding vehicles to its Route 66 route, a route one city councilor warned now may be overwhelmed given the recent reductions.
The department will have buses follow each other on the route or fill in gaps between scheduled buses, ABQ Ride spokesman Rick De Reyes said. The intent is to increase capacity now that 66 is the only service available on the Central corridor.
“Some buses might be right behind the others and some may be coming within half the time,” De Reyes said.
With COVID-19 concerns prompting the closure of many area businesses and altering daily life for most New Mexicans, total city bus ridership was down 17% in March compared to the same month last year. In response, ABQ Ride recently curtailed its operations, moving all routes to a reduced-service “Saturday” schedule and temporarily halting Albuquerque Rapid Transit.
But stopping ART has forced all Central Avenue riders onto the 66 buses.
City Councilor Isaac Benton said he worries that has resulted in crowded conditions at a time when health experts are urging people to stay 6 feet apart to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“My understanding is the Route 66 buses are running quite full, in some cases to the extent social distancing was not possible,” Benton said during Monday’s council meeting.
De Reyes said the city began this week putting more buses on Central. It is also asking riders to wear face coverings and to use the bus only as necessary via messaging on its website and social media.
“We encourage our riders to stay home if you are not traveling for work related to an Essential Business, or for urgent personal business like a medical appointment or to buy food for your family,” the city said on its ABQ Ride website. “We need to keep our limited capacity available for people who must travel.”
— Jessica Dyer
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases increase by 42, with 2 more deaths
The Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the total cases on the Navajo Nation to 426. The Navajo Nation also confirmed two more COVID-19 deaths. There are now 17 confirmed COVID-19 deaths on the Navajo Nation.
“The Navajo Nation can implement and enforce curfews and restrictions, but ultimately it’s up to you,” President Jonathan Nez said. “We must practice T’áá hwó’ ajít’éego, self-determination, our Diné people must know that they also have the power to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have the power to save lives, especially those that have compromised immune systems. We must work together to protect our people, our way of life and who we are as Diné.”
A reservation-wide stay-at-home order and an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew remain in effect. The Navajo Nation will also have a weekend-long curfew from 8 p.m. on Friday, April 10, to 5 a.m. on Monday, April 13. President Nez has encouraged people who must leave home for essential trips to wear masks and gloves.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center hotline is (928) 871-7014.
— Theresa Davis