Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
6 more COVID-19 deaths in NM
Easter Sunday took on a grim note in New Mexico, as state officials announced six additional COVID-19 deaths, the highest number in a single day.
So far, the novel coronavirus has claimed 26 lives in the state. The state also announced 74 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing New Mexico’s total to 1,245.
“Every New Mexican must work together to stem the spread of COVID-19,” the Governor’s Office said in a news release. “Stay home.”
— Martin Salazar
Emergency chicken run
A lot of people are taking their work home right now as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses into embracing telecommuting.
But for Bernalillo County Urban 4-H agent Brittany Sonntag, taking work home was much more involved than just setting up a computer on the kitchen table.
When the state announced that public schools would shut down to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Sonntag and two co-workers had to evacuate about 60 incubating eggs and 15 chicks from more than a dozen classrooms across the county that 4-H was partnering with.
“They would’ve hatched while the schools were closed,” Sonntag said of the eggs, which were donated by a local farmer.
Some of the chicks ended up living in Sonntag’s bathroom since nonessential businesses – including the 4-H office – also closed.
The chicks and eggs were in elementary classrooms as part of a program the local 4-H office runs each spring to teach kids about incubation and to aid in other core content lessons.
— Shelby Perea
Health care workers brace for a surge
It’s the calm before the storm.
As health care professionals nationwide reel from the COVID-19 pandemic amid dwindling supplies, surging casualties and overworked staff – those in New Mexico anxiously wait their turn. And hope it doesn’t come.
Casey Vivian, a nurse at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, said there is an ominous atmosphere in the quiet hallways and empty hospital beds.
“It’s kind of an eerie feeling,” she said. “Because you’re thinking ‘OK, when is the surge going to happen? When is it going to get to the point that we have no option but to fill these rooms?'”
The warning signs are there, Vivian said, with emails on updated policies and procedures flooding her inbox, the hospital designating a floor for COVID-19 patients and infection numbers soaring in surrounding Bernalillo County. She and her colleagues worry about getting infected with COVID-19 themselves and bringing it home to their families.
“Nursing in general, you go to work and you don’t really know what you’re going to get that day, but this is like a whole ‘nother ball game,” she said. “It’s just unreal and nothing we’ve dealt with before – the whole state is shut down, the whole nation is going through it.”
So far, the state has seen 1,174 cases and 20 deaths. As of Saturday evening, there were 78 hospitalized and 235 deemed recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health. State officials have said their modeling projects 2,100 to 4,700 deaths over the next 12 months, although modeling done by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is estimating 192 deaths through June.
— Ryan Boetel and Matthew Reisen
17% jump brings Navajo cases to 698, 2 more deaths reported
Two more people have died and another 101 have tested positive for COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation, a 17% jump that brings the total number of infections to 698 and the death toll to 24.
The 101 new cases reported Saturday represent the largest daily increase since the outbreak began on the reservation on March 17.
Since then, the virus has spread furiously, leaving the reservation with a per capita rate of cases nearly eight times that of New Mexico’s.
The death toll has also been significantly greater than New Mexico’s. Twenty people have died in New Mexico from complications related to the virus, while the Navajo Nation is reporting 24 — a per capita rate nearly 16 times higher.
The situation has left tribal leaders scrambling for ways to slow the outbreak, and they announced Saturday evening that they hope to begin using tests with quicker turnaround time beginning next week. The current tests take 2-4 days for results, the new ones will take only minutes.
“Quicker test results will likely result in even higher numbers of positive cases, but it will help to identify those who have the virus and begin to mitigate the cases much quicker,” President Jonathan Nez wrote in a release.
Nez urged residents on the reservation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, to stay home Easter Sunday and attend religious services virtually.
There have been 481 cases reported on the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation, 206 in New Mexico, and 11 in Utah.
Vice President Myron Lizer urged residents to stay hopeful, but also diligent, as officials work to manage the crisis.
“There is always a light of hope in every challenge that our Navajo people have ever faced and this is no different. Yes, the numbers are growing, but many people are also testing negative for the virus and many are recovering as well,” he said. “We will beat COVID-19 together, but we will beat it quicker if we stay home as much as possible.”
Here’s how to help.
— Robert Browman
NM rural hospitals on life support
As New Mexico readies its medical front line for a potential surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitals, particularly in smaller communities, are enduring “painful” consequences of the governor’s ban on “nonessential” procedures: A sudden financial drain is straining operations and has led to some furloughs already.
“It’s painful – it is very, very painful,” said Tanya Carroccio, chief quality officer at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City. “The bread and butter for rural hospitals is to be able to count on their outpatient procedures and surgeries and certainly those elective ones. It hurts.”
On Friday, one national chain with a southern New Mexico hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing COVID-19 uncertainties. The state Human Services Department also announced $35 million in immediate financial help for hospitals.
— Colleen Heild