Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Navajo Nation leaders connect with New York Gov. Cuomo
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center reported 63 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and three additional COVID-19 deaths. There are now 1,206 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation and 48 deaths.
A news release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President said the total cases include 569 men and 637 women, and the average age of COVID-19 patients on the Navajo Nation is 48 years old. The release said the average age of Navajo who have died from COVID-19 is 65 years old.
In a virtual townhall update Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said although “the curve seems to be flattening,” the reservation would continue to enforce stay-at-home orders, curfews and business restrictions. The Navajo Nation will have another 57-hour weekend curfew starting Friday night.
Health care professionals with the Navajo Health Command Operations Center have projected that the peak of COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation will be in early May or mid-May.
President Nez said he had spoken with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about sending supplies from New York to the Navajo Nation.
“They have a lot of supplies and resources there, and they know firsthand what to do,” Nez said. “We’re going to listen to what they’ve done there, and we’re working on trying to get some needed supplies.”
A high school gymnasium in Gallup has been converted into an alternative care site to treat patients if nearby health care facilities become overwhelmed. The Navajo Nation is evaluating more alternative care sites in Shiprock and Chinle, Arizona.
Nez said 15 employees of the Navajo Police Department have tested positive for COVID-19: six officers, four sergeants, three dispatchers and two civilian personnel.
— Theresa Davis
Milne helipad to be used if coronavirus patient numbers surge
A spokeswoman for Presbyterian Healthcare Services says that a helipad constructed in the Milne Stadium parking lot in Southeast Albuquerque will be used if there is a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Sunland Asphalt, the company whose crews worked on the project over the weekend, said initially that the helipad would be used to transport COVID-19 patients from northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation.
Melanie Mozes, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian Healthcare Services told the Arizona Republic that the hospital, the city and other partners were working to “prepare an additional helipad should a patient surge occur.” She said she does not anticipate local hospitals using the helipad “until that surge occurs but wanted to be prepared in advance.” It is not intended for a specific population or for Arizona residents, she said “and would most likely be used, if needed at all, for New Mexicans.”
Mozes said Tuesday that it is not Presbyterian’s helipad, and to her knowledge it is not being used at this time.
— Katy Barnitz
Thousands of parents face deadline for extra stimulus payment
Thousands of New Mexicans who receive Social Security benefits and have children — but who didn’t file a tax return — have just hours left to apply for expanded stimulus payments.
They must file a federal form by 10 a.m. Wednesday to get the extra $500 this year for each qualified child.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is encouraging people who qualify to file immediately.
“We are horrified by the IRS’s sudden announcement late yesterday forcing a large category of people to file a form by (Wednesday) morning to get stimulus payments for their children in a timely way,” said Lindsay Cutler, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
The tight deadline applies to recipients of Social Security, veterans and railroad retirement benefits.
The IRS will automatically issue $1,200 economic stimulus payments soon. But recipients are also eligible for an extra $500 for each dependent child.
Recipient who don’t file a tax return must instead complete a federal form — available at irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here — by 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“This is not enough time for most people to even hear about this new requirement, much less complete the form,” Cutler said. “Other options should be made available. People who receive Social Security, Veterans, and Railroad Retirement benefits programs should fill out the IRS Portal immediately to ensure they get their payment this year.”
— Dan McKay
Torres Small’s bill would hold small businesses’ place in line
New Mexico Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small is sponsoring legislation that will allow small businesses to keep their place in line when applying for aid through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Torres Small said several small businesses and farmers in the state qualified for funding, and small lenders were approved just as the program ran out of the almost $350 billion Congress approved through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act last month. The first term-Democrat told the Journal negotiations were underway to put at least another $300 billion into the program in another COVID-19 relief package.
Under the legislation she is sponsoring “small businesses will still be able to apply and hold a spot for when the funding becomes available.”
“Small businesses were crowded out by bigger and faster operations and big lenders when funding was made available through the CARES ACT,” Torres Small said in a phone interview.
She said guidelines were in disarray during the original rollout, and it took small businesses with limited staff a longer time to get things set up. She said it was extremely difficult for the self employed and independent contractors to find out if they qualified.
— Scott Turner
National Guard sent to Gallup to assist locals
New Mexico National Guard members are being called upon to help with food, water and crowd control as part of the state’s coronavirus response effort.
Most recently, about 50 National Guard members were deployed to Gallup last week to help with coronavirus testing and with community social distancing efforts, National Guard spokesman Joseph Vigil said.
Specifically, Gallup City Manager Maryann Ustick said in a news release the National Guard members would be helping grocery stores to enforce the social distancing measures, which include only allowing 20% of a store’s maximum capacity to be inside at any time.
— Dan Boyd
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases reach 1,321
Navajo Nation health officials announced COVID-19 cases on the reservation had reached 1,321 Monday, an increase in 124 cases from Saturday’s reports. The Navajo Nation did not report case updates on Sunday, so the latest numbers represent two days of collected data. A Monday evening news release from the Navajo Department of Health said there are now 45 Navajo COVID-19 deaths on the Navajo Nation, including two border town deaths. There have been a total of 4,589 negative test results.
The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows Native Americans make up 41.47% of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Native Americans represent 10.9% of New Mexico’s population, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data.
The Navajo Nation is currently under a reservation-wide 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily curfew. Visitors and tourists are not permitted on the reservation. Navajo residents are required to wear a mask when in public on the reservation.
Navajo COVID-19 cases by county (from the Navajo Epidemiology Center):
Navajo County (AZ): 332
Apache County (AZ): 233
Coconino County (AZ): 217
McKinley County (NM): 306
San Juan County (NM): 177
Cibola County (NM): 14
Socorro (NM): 13
Sandoval (NM): 13
San Juan County (UT): 16
— Theresa Davis