Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases rise by 164, with 9 new deaths
The Navajo Department of Health reported 164 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. There are now 2,141 cases on the reservation. There were 9 additional COVID-19 deaths reported by the NDOH, Navajo Epidemiology Center and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. In total, there have been 71 deaths from the disease on the Navajo Nation. The agencies are reporting a total of 8,639 negative test results. The average age of COVID-19 patients on the reservation is 46. The average age of COVID-19 deaths is 65.
The 539 Navajo reservation cases in McKinley County are more than any other county on the reservation.
In a call with reporters Thursday, Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo Area IHS, confirmed that cases in Gallup and McKinley County have surged primarily because of initial outbreaks at a local detox center and among the city’s unsheltered population.
“As soon as we learned one person was positive, we worked to find shelter for that population,” Christensen said. “We did very intense tracing very quickly, and we were successful with that.”
The IHS predicts the Navajo Nation’s virus peak will be around May 10.
New Mexico’s northwest corner, which overlaps with the Navajo Nation, is experiencing the state’s highest case numbers and infection rates.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the Navajo Nation Rapid Response Team to help bridge the gap between tribal and state resources. The team includes physicians and leaders from the New Mexico National Guard, Navajo Area IHS, Cochiti Pueblo, ABQ Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center, UNM Health Sciences and U.S. Homeland Security.
— Theresa Davis
Lujan Grisham relaxes some NM business restrictions
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday that New Mexico is ready to begin relaxing some restrictions on businesses for the first time amid the coronavirus outbreak.
She announced that she will extend New Mexico’s stay-at-home instruction through May 15, but with significant changes.
Starting Friday, under the new public health orders, nonessential retailers can operate via curbside pickup and delivery when permitted by their license, and state parks may reopen on a modified basis.
Golf courses will be permitted to open for golf only, not dine-in or other services. Gun stores, meanwhile, can start operating by appointment only. Veterinarian clinics can resume operations.
The new order goes into place Friday and will last through May 15.
— Dan Boyd, Dan McKay
COVID-19 testing offered in South Valley next week
Free COVID-19 testing will take place on Tuesday, May 5, in the South Valley, according to the City of Albuquerque.
The state Department of Health will offer the testing from 9 to 11 a.m. at South Valley Health Commons, 2001 N. Centro Familiar SW, by appointment only. Call 505-873-7477 to make an appointment.
According to the news release, testing is offered to:
■ People experiencing such symptoms as fever, cough, chills, or shortness of breath;
■ Essential workers with or without symptoms, including health care workers, first responders, public works and grocery store employees;
■ People with or without symptoms who are contacts or household members of residents who have already tested positive for the COVID-19;
■ Employees and residents of congregate settings — such as nursing homes — with or without symptoms; and
■ Anyone who may have traveled to any area with community spread in last 14 days.
— Journal Staff
UNM making plans on how to reopen in the fall
Top officials at the University of New Mexico are planning on holding classes next fall, though what those classes will look like isn’t known.
Officials with UNM’s main campus and the chancellor of the Health Sciences Center discussed the issue of when the college with reopen to in-person discussion during meetings this week. But they said that much will depend on city and state public health orders.
“We have to align with the state and the city,” Provost James Holloway said during a virtual regents committee meeting on Thursday. “We can’t get ahead of them.”
HSC Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth said in a virtual chat that it will depend on how they can reopen safely.
“It’s not really a question in my mind so much as when students will come back, it’s how we’re going to do it,” he said.
Holloway said there are working groups on main campus discussing possible strategies, which will include wearing masks and other social distancing measures.
For example, he said it’s likely there won’t be large gatherings. So lectures that meet three days a week could potentially only draw a third of the students in the class with the rest watching online.
The school is also likely to change the flow of buildings to have one-way hallways, modify cleaning procedures and reduce student events. And much will also depend on the capacity to test students and employees for COVID-19 and trace the illness.
“One of the challenges is that people would like definitive answers … but of course there’s so much we don’t know,” Holloway said. “We do know we are going to be under various levels of social distancing and public health orders for the next year or more. We’re not going to be out from under this in the fall and probably next spring.”
President Garnett Stokes said that while no decision has been made about college football, she’s hopeful a season could be held in some fashion.
— Ryan Boetel
Decline in new cases a key to reopening
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hasn’t set a target date for when she believes it will be safe to reopen more of New Mexico’s economy.
But guidelines issued by the White House and Johns Hopkins University offer a few clues about what to watch for.
One of the standards, for example, suggests phasing in a reopening of businesses after a decline in new cases over a two-week period – a standard New Mexico doesn’t appear to meet yet.
The number of new cases announced Wednesday, in fact, represents the biggest single-day surge so far.
— Dan McKay
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.