ByMarjorie Childress, Shaun Griswold, and Aliya Uteuova |
The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.”
Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.
Starting Monday, in an acknowledgement of how bad things have gotten, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced today during an online update that we’re returning to sheltering in place. That means everyone must stay home unless they work in an essential business, or need to go out for groceries or medical care.
And she announced she’s calling the New Mexico Legislature into a special session within days to help New Mexicans struggling to keep food on the table, pay their bills, and stay in their homes. And to help businesses survive.
We’re experiencing the greatest emergency our country has seen, Lujan Grisham said, and with no federal guidance and support, that means she has to take action, dismissing notions that she should follow the lead of other states that aren’t closing businesses, she said.
The overwhelming need, right now, she said is for New Mexicans to shelter in place to fight the spread of the virus.
That means her own family isn’t getting together in person for Thanksgiving, she said, so that they’ll be intact and whole for the Thanksgivings to come.
But far too many families will come together, and will then come together again for a funeral, she said. “It’s not worth the risk. It’s not worth the risk.”
Those were my thoughts exactly a week ago when I pulled the plug on visiting my family for Thanksgiving.
While a lot of us are caught up in watching the vote count in the presidential race this morning, the disturbing rise in COVID-19 infections in New Mexico this week has reminded me that who will lead this country for the next four years isn’t the only major story. “November is done,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said yesterday during an online COVID media briefing.
During the briefing, the daily update on infections and deaths popped into my inbox announcing 862 new cases and 23 deaths, jarring me out of a now familiar routine of tuning into COVID briefings and, this week, monitoring election results.
Yesterday’s death count far surpassed the previous record of 14 deaths in a single day. What Lujan Grisham meant by saying that November was done, was that those fatalities were seeded in October or September and now all we can do is make it through what will likely be a grim November.
We are experiencing a horrific surge in COVID cases, throughout the state, far exceeding last spring, or the second peak in the summer.
The backdrop is a hospital system busting at the seams. The ICU beds in the state are perilously close to being completely maxed out. The following graphs from yesterday’s briefing show that capacity could be exceeded in one to two weeks. When that happens, the hospitals will move into crisis standards of care.
This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Get their investigations emailed to you directly by signing up at revealnews.org/newsletter. Kathy Kunkel, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, was frustrated. She was getting reports the first week of May of horrifying conditions at the Otero County Processing Center, one of three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities in the state. Detainees were responsible for disinfecting their own living spaces but weren’t getting adequate cleaning supplies.
Protesters of the police killing of George Floyd organized a protest caravan in Albuquerque, NM, May 28. Credit: Shaun Griswold
This story was published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. New Mexico In Depth is an investigative, nonprofit newsroom that occasionally republishes stories that have particular relevance to New Mexicans. Don’t miss out, sign up to receive our stories soon after they’re published. Every weekday morning, mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon turns on her police radio in downtown Denver and finds out who she can help next.
Advanced Health Care facility in Albuquerque. Tara Armijo-Prewitt/New Mexico In Depth
We published a story this week about the nursing home industry resisting for years a federal mandate to plan for disasters including pandemics. About 43% of nursing homes nationally have been caught violating the requirement, including some with deadly COVID-19 outbreaks.
The story by New Mexico In Depth reporter Bryant Furlow and partners at ProPublica and the Raleigh, NC-based News & Observer newspaper features a COVID-19 outbreak and deaths at a nursing home in Albuquerque, Advanced Health Care. As of yesterday, 102 of 335 New Mexicans who have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic were residents of nursing homes, and another 30 were residents of other long-term care facilities. We don’t know how many, if any, staff of nursing homes have died.
It’s important to know that AHC of Albuquerque earned a 5-Star rating — the highest level — from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Crude oil storage tanks dot the landscape in San Juan County. Marjorie Childress/New Mexico In Depth
The oil and gas industry may have cratered over the last few months due to a steep drop in consumer demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s still a major player in shaping New Mexico’s state Legislature.
Oil companies have pumped $1.1 million dollars into 2020 New Mexico primary election campaigns since last October. The industry distributed $180,000 of that total since March 11, the date the first COVID-19 case was identified in New Mexico and the economy subsequently began rapidly shutting down.
The industry contributes large amounts to New Mexico politicians every election cycle, and runs its own campaigns independently as well. Such political spending by the industry occurs whether the oil industry is in one of its notorious “bust” cycles, or booming. Over the last couple of years, the industry has been booming, fueling an injection of billions of dollars into the state budget.
Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, said the sheer size of the industry, and its importance to the state budget, gives it a great deal of influence.
“Most legislators seem to be very careful around the industry,” said Sabo, “it’s not partisan.” Sabo said efforts to regulate the industry can generate comments at the statehouse from both sides of the aisle about “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”
Indeed, New Mexico In Depth found in 2019 that no regulatory bills targeting oil and gas were successful during the legislative session without the blessing of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, despite strong Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate and a new Democratic governor.
Its influence goes beyond campaign contributions, Sabo said.
As the first wave of COVID-19 hits communities during primary season, states are still resolving how to hold elections in the middle of a pandemic. Voter advocates and organizers see the primaries as a test run, with many assuming that the November general election will also need to adapt to COVID-19. Since April, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, a virologist, and epidemiologists have predicted that another, potentially worse, wave of the virus will hit communities this fall and winter. Universal vote-by-mail is being promoted by secretaries of State and voter advocates alike as a clear solution to balancing voter access and public health concerns. In this area, the West leads the way.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.A few days after Easter, the Police Department in Lubbock, Texas, received a call from a concerned employee of a car dealership on the southwest side of the West Texas town.Management had continued to flout safety orders imposed by Gov. Greg Abbott, part of an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, according to the employee who said he was about to self-quarantine after coming into contact with personal protective equipment a customer had left in a traded-in vehicle.It was the fifth time the city had received a complaint about the McGavock Nissan dealership in less than three weeks. The fire marshal’s office dispatched an inspector who confirmed that the dealership was not enforcing social distancing guidelines or sanitizing cars between test drives. But the inspector issued no citation, instead passing along the information to “city hall for directive.”The next day, on the opposite end of the sprawling state, police in the border town of Laredo were alerted to social media posts from two women, one doing nails and the other eyelash extensions, from their homes in violation of Abbott’s orders. Neither was a licensed cosmetologist.Instead of issuing warnings or urging them to comply, as happened in Lubbock, Laredo police launched an undercover sting to catch the two women, resulting in their arrests.As Texas now reopens at Abbott’s direction, under a much looser set of restrictions, a ProPublica-Texas Tribune analysis of complaint data in a dozen cities shows these disparate approaches to enforcement — particularly among businesses — were incredibly common across the state.Cities and counties arrived at dramatically different interpretations of Abbott’s emergency orders.
While Navajo people represent the worst hit by COVID-19 in absolute numbers — Navajos represent 45% of all New Mexico’s positive cases – two Pueblo communities are being hit harder, by percentage of their population, according to data provided by state health officials.
About 11% of Zia Pueblo and 4% of San Felipe members have contracted the virus compared to about 2% of Navajo Nation members who live in New Mexico. The New Mexico Department of Health provided New Mexico In Depth a detailed breakdown of the number of positive cases by tribal affiliation through Monday. Those numbers show that the great majority of tribes in the state have cases of COVID-19. The New Mexico Department of Health provided this chart to New Mexico In Depth on Monday, May 11, showing the tribal affiliation of Native American people in New Mexico who have contracted COVID-19 through Monday. Navajo people represented 2,194 of the state’s 5,069 cases on Monday. Reported separately were non-contiguous Navajo chapters.