Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases reach 921
The Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service reported 83 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, for a total of 921 cases. The Navajo Nation also reported an additional five COVID-19 deaths. There are now 38 COVID-19 deaths on the Navajo Nation. The agencies reported a total of 3,239 negative tests.
In a short video update Wednesday, Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the Navajo Area Indian Health Service had received rapid test kits and 50 ventilators from the federal government.
President Nez said many residents on the reservation are starting to receive stimulus checks from the federal government. He urged Diné to shop local, follow social distancing guidelines, and wear masks and gloves when shopping at grocery stores and other essential businesses.
Navajo Vice President Myron Lizer encouraged Navajo residents to save what money they could, and to “fight the urge to ride off into our border towns to spend that money.”
“For those of you who can, sit tight, stay home, and let others who desperately need to get out there to our local supermarkets get their necessities,” Lizer said.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center hotline is (928) 871-7014.
— Theresa Davis
State airports to receive $25.2 million from CARES Act
New Mexico will receive over $25.2 million in federal grants to help airports in the state maintain operations, the state’s congressional delegation said Wednesday.
The airports play a vital role in sustaining supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lawmakers said in a news release.
The funds are part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress last month. The money is to help airports that are experiencing declining revenue because of decreased air travel.
The Albuquerque International Sunport will receive nearly $16.7 million, Santa Fe Municipal Airport will receive over $1.8 million, Lea County Regional Airport will receive over $1 million, and the Roswell Air Center will receive over $1.2 million, the release said. Over 45 additional airports around the state will receive amounts ranging from $20,000 to $69,000 each, according to the delegation.
— Scott Turner
Campfires prohibited on New Mexico’s national forests
The U.S. Forest Service is prohibiting campfires on all five national forests in New Mexico until further notice, in an effort to prevent human-caused wildfires and a strain on first responder resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Forest Service’s Southwestern Region announced the restrictions in a news release Wednesday.
“While spending time outside provides forest visitors needed space, exercise and satisfaction, we are taking the risks presented by COVID-19 seriously,” Lincoln National Forest Supervisor Travis Moseley said in a statement. “We are providing some recreation opportunities where we can while protecting and keeping employees, the public and our communities safe from the virus, as well as protecting and keeping communities and natural and cultural resources safe from unwanted human-caused wildfires.”
The agency said the campfire restriction will prevent an unnecessary depletion of medical and fire resources and “reduce firefighter exposure to COVID-19.”
The order prohibits “igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, including charcoal grills and barbecues, coal and wood burning stoves.” Consequences for violating the order include possible fines and jail time.
The Forest Service said visitors are allowed to use pressurized liquid or gas stoves, grills or lanterns with shut-off valves.
Many amenities on the forests have closed in response to the pandemic, but dispersed camping is still allowed in many areas. The Forest Service has an interactive map with information about what sites are open: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ivm.
— Theresa Davis
Lujan Grisham announces 80 new virus cases, no new deaths
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that 90 coronavirus patients are now hospitalized in New Mexico — a 10% increase over the last day.
But she also shared some good news: The state had no new deaths to announce, and the growth of new cases may be slowing.
“What you’re doing is making a difference,” Lujan Grisham said of New Mexicans’ willingness to stay home and engage in social distancing.
Earlier this week, New Mexico had been announcing five or six deaths a day.
Altogether, Lujan Grisham said, testing had confirmed 80 new virus cases Wednesday, and the state now has 1,484 cases total.
— Dan Boyd, Dan McKay
Hospital workers protest at UNMH
Several nurses and other frontline hospital workers at the state’s only Level 1 Trauma Center have used up their paid-time off when they were sent home to stay in isolation after being exposed to the coronavirus at work.
That was one of the grievances of the roughly 60 University of New Mexico workers who lined up along Lomas outside of University of New Mexico Hospital on Wednesday the morning. Standing six feet apart from each other on the sidewalk, the workers held up signs drawing attention to personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“Please Protect Everyone,” one sign read.
The nurses, respiratory therapists and other employees are upset about having to use paid-time off if they are quarantined after possibly being exposed to the coronavirus at work, and about access and transparency of the hospital’s supply of protective equipment, said Eleanor Chavez, the executive director of the local chapter of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, which represents nurses and other employees at UNMH.
In an Intensive Care Unit at the hospital assigned to treat patients with COVID-19, 10 hospital employees, including seven union members, have been sent home to stay in isolation after being exposed to the virus, Chavez.
— Ryan Boetel, Anthony Jackson
New Mexico delegation concerned about CARES ACT rollout
New Mexico’s congressional delegation is expressing concerns over the rollout of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress last month.
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and U.S Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small – all Democrats – sent letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza voicing those concerns.
They are urging Mnuchin and Carranza to improve implementation guidance about the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan process.
SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program is expected to provide $349 billion to struggling small businesses and nonprofits across the nation, the lawmakers said in a news release. The CARES Act also created a new SBA disaster grant available as a part of the EIDL process, the lawmakers said.
“Neither of these programs is fully serving the needs of businesses and nonprofits in New Mexico as Congress intended,” the lawmakers wrote. “The first-come, first-served distribution of the $349 billion in the PPP has strongly disadvantaged community banks and mission-based nonprofit lenders in New Mexico that serve the majority of our small businesses.”
They pointed to reports that local SBA offices do not have access to the SBA’s loan or emergency systems.
“As such, they are unable to assist businesses with specific questions related to their applications,” the delegation wrote.
— Scott Turner
Navajo Nation to get rapid tests and ventilators, two police officers test positive for COVID-19
There are now 838 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation, according to numbers released Tuesday evening by the Navajo Epidemiology Center, the Navajo Department of Health and the Navajo Health Command Operations Center. The cases increased by 25 since Monday’s reports. The Navajo Nation reported 5 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, bringing the disease’s death toll to 33.
During a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that in addition to rapid test kits, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service would soon receive 50 ventilators from the federal government.
He said the rapid tests, which can confirm the presence of coronavirus in less than an hour, will likely contribute to a spike in COVID-19 cases reported on the Navajo Nation.
Nez and Navajo Chief of Police Phillip Francisco also announced two Navajo police officers have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Our first responders — our warriors — on the frontline are beginning to contract this virus, and we need to stay home,” Nez said. “It is no joke.”
A new data portal from the New Mexico Department of Health shows that Native Americans make up 36.7% of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
Nez said the epidemiology team is working on a dashboard to provide more detailed information about locations of COVID-19 cases on the reservation. The Navajo Health Command Operations Center currently reports cases by county.
“Right now we’re looking at maybe reporting these cases on the map by zipcodes or going back to locating by the Navajo Area IHS service unit areas,” Nez said.
A daily curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in effect throughout the reservation. The Navajo Health Command Operations Center hotline is (928) 871-7014.
Here’s how to help.
— Theresa Davis
Police say woman with COVID-19 violated public health order
A woman with COVID-19 allegedly walked into an Estancia restaurant last week and announced she had the virus before using the restroom, leading the owner to shut down for three days to sanitize the business.
Now 67-year-old Gina Peterson is charged with violation of a public health act and public nuisance, both petty misdemeanors. Peterson was issued a summons to appear in Moriarty Magistrate Court.
“(Peterson) did violate the public health order by appearing in public telling citizens she was infected with COVID-19, and refused to self quarantine as ordered by her doctor,” an officer wrote in the document charging Peterson.
Peterson could face a fine of up to $100 and/or up to six months in jail if convicted of violating the public health order.