COVID-19 in New Mexico: What data can tell us. What it can’t.

New Mexico’s COVID-19 cases increased to 191 today, 17 people are hospitalized, one person has died. And now, the governor wants the U.S. Department of Defense to set up a staffed 248-bed combat hospital in Albuquerque. 

Lujan Grisham wrote it’s “urgently needed” in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper because COVID-19 might overwhelm  New Mexico’s medical facilities. That’s where New Mexico stands at the moment, and the combination of those stats, not to mention all the data and modeling that’s swirling around the internet, might make you anxious. 

Many turn to data to help them understand the world. But the big problem with data about COVID-19 is the gaps. There are many.

Navajo Nation asks tourists and other visitors to stay home as first Covid-19 cases emerge

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sat at a desk with Chlorox handwipes as he announced through an online broadcast that the Navajo Nation was closed to outside visitors now that two Navajo people have tested positive in the Kayenta, AZ area. 

There won’t be barricaded roads, but tourist areas are closed and he asked everyone to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation by not visiting during what he called an unprecedented situation. “The best thing to do is stay at home,” he said. 

In making the case for travelers to not come to the Navajo Nation, he noted that the first cases that emerged in New Mexico were from people who had traveled outside the state, bringing the “bug” home. He explained “bug,” saying was the best translation of virus in the Navajo language. 

Nez emphasized rapidly changing conditions, noting that recommendations from the federal government first limited gatherings to under 100, but have lowered now to groups of 10. He urged people to pay attention and to follow the advice of leaders. 

“We’re not closing down churches or ceremonies, but these are recommendations, just like we’re doing now, keeping 6 feet between us, rotating in and out of this room,” he said about how he and his colleagues were operating the press conference. 

The two people who tested positive are in stable condition at hospitals in Phoenix. They are from Chilchinbeto, AZ, which is in Navajo County. 

Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo area Indian Health Service, said extensive contact tracing is happening in Chilchinbeto to identify anyone who might have been exposed to the virus through contact with the people who tested positive so they can get tested. 

In total, she said there have been over 100 people tested in Navajo area IHS facilities and they have results from about 20% of those.

Gov: “I’m prepared to make every hard decision that saves lives.”

In the space of 24 hours, the United States seemed to close shop. Disneyland shut its gates. The NCAA cancelled March Madness and the NBA suspended its season. President Trump ended travel by Europeans into the United States. The show will not go on for the biggest concert tours and Broadway theaters, at least for now. And churches and universities across the country and the globe chose to eliminate in-person services and classes temporarily.

How lawmakers spend public money found “not germane” in a budget session

New Mexico’s every-other-year legislative sessions are, by definition, short. Just over four weeks. There’s a lot of legislation to cram in, including the state budget, and this year the governor is pushing for no less than legalization of recreational cannabis and free college tuition. 

But somehow, in a session in which only items pertaining to public money are allowed unless the governor indicates otherwise, shedding light on how some lawmakers spend that money has been found  “not germane.” And so far, the governor hasn’t included greater government transparency among the shortlist of issues she added for debate this year, or “on the call.” Her predecessor, Gov. Susana Martinez, championed some transparency initiatives. And in both the 2016 and 2018 short sessions, legislation to disclose publicly the capital outlay funding decisions of individual lawmakers was greenlighted for debate. 

This year, there are two sets of lawmakers pushing to lift the veil of secrecy about how lawmakers spend money for infrastructure projects.

New Mexico In Depth joins ProPublica Local Reporting Network

New Mexico In Depth has been selected to join a high-impact national network focused on local investigative reporting in 2020. 

Since 2008, ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom headquartered in New York City, has become known for rigorous and thoughtful journalism, winning five Pulitzers, five Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards, seven George Polk Awards and five Online News Association Awards for general excellence.  

The New York based news organization will fund and lend its expertise to a year-long investigative reporting project by Albuquerque-based reporter Bryant Furlow focused on health care in New Mexico. 

Bryant Furlow is known for reporting that leads to change. 

His reporting has exposed off-label sedation of jail inmates with prescription drug cocktails, embezzlements, and lax oversight by the state’s insurance regulators — reporting that prompted new state legislation on insurance rate-setting transparency. With New Mexico In Depth, he detailed how the state’s freeze on Medicaid payments to the state’s largest behavioral health providers disrupted drug treatment and mental health services for children and adults across the state. He’s authored hundreds of health care and medical research news stories for medical journals, including The Lancet journals’ news desks, where his recent reporting has spotlighted neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, vaping injuries, the seizure by the US Border Patrol of children’s medications and volunteer health care efforts at migrant shelters along the U.S./Mexico border. The ProPublica Local Reporting Network was launched in 2018, and with the addition of New Mexico In Depth and 12 other news organizations around the country, now numbers 20 projects. In addition to funding a full-time investigative reporter for one year, ProPublica senior editors will collaborate with Furlow, and the organization will lend their expertise with data, research, and community engagement. 

New Mexico In Depth regularly seeks to collaborate with both national and local news organizations to bring resources, new skills, and more journalism to New Mexico communities, where investigative reporting is in short supply.