Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Little help available yet for self-employed
Richard Gabriel Jr. has been making ornate mirrors, ornaments, candleholders and other items out of tin in the French-Colonial style for around three decades.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down tourist travel to New Mexico in March, the art galleries in Albuquerque and Santa Fe that he sells to began to shut their doors. Events like Santa Fe’s Traditional Spanish Market, which Gabriel said accounts for about 10% of his annual income, were called off, leaving him without many options.
“Even if (the economy) opens today, I’m going to need some help,” Gabriel said. “My business isn’t going to come back until the tourists come back.”
Making matters worse, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions currently has no unemployment assistance program for self-employed workers like Gabriel.
Even as state and federal business assistance programs scale up funding, sole practitioners, independent contractors and gig economy workers like Uber and Lyft drivers have largely been left to fend for themselves in New Mexico and many other states as work dries up.
— Stephen Hamway
Living with addiction during a pandemic
The spread of COVID-19 has forced people all over the county to use technology more regularly to communicate with one another.
This includes those struggling with substance use disorder, who now have to use such online platforms as Zoom to attend meetings run by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Marie, who has been sober for 11 years, said attending meetings exclusively online has been a difficult transition.
“For me, I kind of miss the personal one-on-one and face-to-face kind of thing,” she said.
However, she and other members of AA said the virtual meetings provide a much-needed service as many people are stuck in their homes and in serious risk of relapsing. Members are identified only by their first names.
AA is known traditionally for its intimate, cathartic sessions, in which those with addictions open up with others facing the same issue. Now, AA’s website features hundreds of meeting times at different chapters all around the country.
“Suddenly, we as a fellowship have jumped into the 21st century,” said Kristina, who helps organize meetings in Santa Fe.
— Kyle Land
Eggs, milk, butter, luncheon meat and bread. What sounds like a typical shopping list has become a staple for food-insecure households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s why Cami Mallory and her wife, Rebecca Mallory, started Families Feeding Families, a community program that redistributes food to families without access to transportation.
“It’s families feeding families in our neighborhood, in our community, donating money, donating food and donating supplies … for other families,” Cami said.
“All of the neighbors wanted to go to the store and buy food, not just give us food that has been sitting in their pantry that they might not eat,” Cami said. “One woman went to Costco and she bought $200 worth of food.”
To date, the family has spent at least $1,500 out of pocket to make sure children and families are fed.
— Anthony Jackson
Swamped system stymies jobless
Frustration. Anger. Desperation.
That’s what many New Mexicans are experiencing as they attempt to navigate the state’s overloaded Workforce Solutions online and telephone unemployment system – a system that was never designed to handle the surge in unemployment claims the state has experienced in the last month.
Tens of thousands of people who have been laid off or furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic have run into technical hurdles applying online. Those trying to call Workforce Solutions often get a busy signal or an automated message saying they should call back later. When they do get through to an automated message saying an agent will be with them, they often face long waits or dropped calls.
“We will take responsibility for state systems being behind the ball in responding to this pandemic,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday. “We are fixing these systems and getting assistance out to New Mexicans as expeditiously as we can.”
The sheer number of applicants has overwhelmed the system, acknowledged Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley.
“In a normal week we have 600 to 800 claims,” he said in an interview last week. That number skyrocketed to nearly 10,000 the last week in March and now sits at more than six times that number.
— Mike Gallagher
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases increase by 70 to 1,197
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center reported a total of 1,197 COVID-19 cases Saturday, an increase of 70 cases. No new COVID-19 deaths were reported by the Navajo Health Department, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Epidemiology Center. There remains a total of 44 COVID-19 deaths on the Navajo Nation. A news release Saturday said the average age of Navajo individuals who have died from the disease is 66 years old. The HCOC has reported a total of 4,075 negative tests.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued an emergency public health order Friday, requiring everyone on the reservation to wear a protective mask in public to help curb the spread of the disease. The Navajo Nation is currently under a 57-hour weekend curfew. Restaurants and food vendors are closed. Grocery stores and gas stations are operating under limited hours and occupancy restrictions.
On Sunday, President Nez will join New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland and other tribal leaders for a televised discussion about COVID-19 in Indian Country. The program will air at 6 p.m. Sunday on New Mexico PBS and will be livestreamed on the New Mexico PBS Facebook page.
The Navajo Department of Health’s coronavirus webpage is www.ndoh.navajo-nsn.gov/COVID-19.
— Theresa Davis