Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer toured a new alternative care site Wednesday at a school gymnasium in Shiprock.
“What we envision here … is to relieve some of the pressure at Northern Navajo Medical Center with patients that have tested positive for COVID-19, so they can be here as a step down from the hospital, and free up some beds over there at the main hospital,” Nez said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and the National Guard helped build the 40-bed facility, as well as alternative care sites in Gallup and in Chinle, Arizona. The crews installed plumbing for hand-washing stations and copper piping for oxygen into the patient bays.
Lt. Colonel Robin Scott with the Army Corps of Engineers said the facility’s design is simple, making it ideal for quick construction and decommissioning.
Nez and Lizer also visited food distribution sites in Pueblo Pintado and Torreon in the eastern Navajo Nation. Nez reminded reservation residents of the upcoming weekend-long curfew and the requirement to wear a mask in public.
“It’s really up to all of us,” Nez said. “If we want our Navajo Nation to open back up, let’s help each other flatten the curve.”
He thanked those who had donated money and supplies to the reservation’s emergency efforts.
State Bar exam postponed for two months
The next State Bar exam has been postponed for two months due to the ongoing public health emergency, but prospective attorneys who have already applied to take the exam may be able to temporarily practice law.
The state Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday that moves the next exam from July to September and requires the Board of Bar Examiners to create a group that will develop recommendations for administering the exam in small groups in case gathering restrictions are still in place. The high court also wants the group develop a temporary program to have people who have applied to take the exam be able to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
The exam is typically administered in February and July each year at the Albuquerque Convention Center over a two-day period. Anyone who applied for the July exam can withdraw the application and get a refund.
Daily virus cases surge, as 2 more die amid outbreak
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Mexico jumped to 3,213 on Wednesday as state officials announced 239 new positive tests and two additional deaths.
It was by far the largest single-day surge in new cases so far, though the state has been expanding its testing.
More than 200 of Wednesday’s positive tests were for individuals in McKinley and San Juan counties, where the Navajo Nation has been endured an outbreak.
Native Americans make up about 53% of those who’ve tested positive so far in New Mexico, though they are less than 11% of the state population as a whole.
The deaths announced Wednesday were a women in her 50s from McKinley County and a man in his 50s from Sandoval County.
Their death pushed the statewide total 112.
The state also announced that 163 patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — and 734 people are designated as having recovered.
— Dan McKay
Announcement on 2020 Santa Fe Opera season expected soon
The future of the Santa Fe Opera’s 2020 season should become more clear in less than two weeks.
“I want to assure you that the Santa Fe Opera is doing everything in our power to do right by our community,” Santa Fe Opera General Director Robert Meya said in a message to patrons this week. “We are committed to making the best decision for everyone whose life is touched by the opera and the business it brings to northern New Mexico. We expect to have that announcement by May 12.”
Meya said over the last six week the opera’s leadership and board have worked “tirelessly to evaluate all possible scenarios for the future of our 2020 season,” which is set for July 3 through Aug. 29.
“Working in close communication with the Office of the Governor, we continue to keep the health and safety of our artists, staff and patrons as the primary factor in all deliberations,” he said.
Santa Fe’s arts community has already been slammed by major event cancellations due to the COVID-19 outbreak as the Indian Market, International Folk Art Market and Traditional Spanish Market have each been canceled.
— Lloyd Jojola
Haaland, Lujan ask Treasury to release funds to tribes
U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján, both New Mexico Democrats, have joined six other House Democrats in calling on the Treasury Department to release COVID-19 emergency funds to tribal governments immediately.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, includes $8 billion for tribal governments to combat the pandemic. That funding has been tied up in court. The Treasury Department initially stated that Alaska Native Corporations were eligible for the funds. The Navajo Nation and several other tribes sued, saying that granting the money to the for-profit entities would deplete resources for tribal governments.
A U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in the case Monday, preventing the Treasury from distributing those funds to the corporations. But the ruling did not require the department to immediately release the money.
“We respectfully request the Treasury Department immediately begin to disburse the $8 billion of Coronavirus Relief Funds to eligible federally recognized tribal governments in compliance with the intended purpose of the COVID-19 relief funds and in recognition of the negative impact that every day of delay has on Tribes,” the lawmakers write in the letter to the Treasury and Interior Departments.
Haaland is the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Fellow lawmakers who signed the letter include Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, and Betty McCollum, D-Minn.
— Theresa Davis
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases increase by 104
There are a total of 1,873 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation, an increase in 104 from Monday’s reports.
One additional COVID-19 death was reported Tuesday by the Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Navajo Epidemiology Center, bringing the total number of deaths on the reservation to 60.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center reports a total of 7,816 negative test results.
Reservation cases in McKinley County, New Mexico, now top all other counties on the Navajo Nation. There are 469 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the reservation in McKinley County.
Native Americans, which represent 11% of New Mexico’s population, make up 50% of the state’s COVID-19 cases, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Health. In Arizona, Native Americans represent 13% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 5% of the population, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The Navajo Nation will implement another 57-hour curfew this weekend, according to a news release.
— Theresa Davis