Editor’s note: Shortly after we posted this analysis, on April 12, New Mexico updated its positive case count to 1,245, which would make this percentage 29%. We will update this again when the Navajo Nation updates its case count, later today or tomorrow. This percentage will most likely fluctuate every day but is, at this point, still nearly three times the percentage of the Native American population in New Mexico. At least 31% of New Mexicans who’ve contracted COVID-19 are Native American, according to New Mexico In Depth calculations from publicly available data. That’s almost three times their percentage of the state population as a whole.
The governor’s office said Wednesday the state of New Mexico is helping Pueblo tribes erect roadblocks to keep non-tribal members off reservations, as outbreaks of COVID-19 have begun to spread through at least three of the communities — and expectations are for the virus to impact others. New Mexico is home to 19 Pueblo tribes, with populations ranging from a couple hundred to 10,000 people.
The governor will “go to any length to keep these areas closed if that’s what needs to be done. The state is exploring all mechanisms,” Nora Sackett wrote in an email today. Sackett is Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press secretary. Yesterday, the office of Lujan Grisham confirmed 31 cases in Zia Pueblo and 52 cases in San Felipe Pueblo, both in Sandoval County.
COVID-19 testing sites are dispersed throughout the state. Map from the New Mexico Department of Health online testing location directory. While New Mexico has remained ahead of the curve nationally when it comes to numbers of people per capita tested for COVID-19 per day, it’s still only managed to test 12,527 since early March. That could change soon, according to state officials who say daily testing will double by next week, and keep growing.
New Mexico’s state laboratory and the private Tricore References Laboratory are adding machines that will boost testing from the current 1,300 people per day, said David Morgan, communications director for the New Mexico Department of Health, with an expectation of 4,650 tests per day by April 20.
Here’s how the numbers will increase over three weeks, according to Morgan:
April 6: Increase to 2,625 tests per day, with 1,800 by TriCore and 825 by the state lab.April 13: Increase to 3,225 per day, with 2,400 by TriCore and 825 by the state lab. April 20: Increase to 4,650 per day, with 2,400 by TriCore and 2,250 by the state lab.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer with health care officials and emergency responders at the federal medical station in Chinle, Ariz. on March 30, 2020. Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation. A federal medical station with 58 beds for COVID-19 patients is being established on the Navajo reservation at the community center in Chinle, Ariz. The beds and supplies were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it’s not enough said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
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 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.
Click on the map to see how many cases currently exist in New Mexico. Credit: Celia Raney
The hospital system in New Mexico is likely to be significantly overburdened by Covid-19 patients, very soon, if social distancing does not sufficiently slow down the spread of the highly infectious virus, according to an analysis by ProPublica of data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute.
ProPublica utilized the institute’s data to create maps by region showing the potential burden on hospitals under different scenarios based on the percentage of population that contracts the virus and the length of time over which those infections occur. Last week, New Mexico In Depth reported that just 54 of 344 state licensed intensive care unit beds were available as the outbreak in New Mexico was just beginning. The ProPublica hospital bed projections for Albuquerque and El Paso regions suggest 344 intensive care beds won’t be near enough, even if they were all empty and ready for Covid-19 patients. Here are charts showing hospital beds in short supply for all scenarios other than the most favorable, in which fewer people get sick over a longer period of time. In both the Albuquerque region, which includes Santa Fe, Farmington and Gallup, and the El Paso region, which includes Las Cruces, the HHI data shows that under most scenarios, more hospital beds in general will be needed to care for sick people as the virus begins to spread more widely.
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.
That was the governor’s message Wednesday morning announcing that Covid-19 is here, with three New Mexicans thought to have contracted the virus after state tests came back positive. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is confirming, state officials said.
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.