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.

What Coronavirus Means for Pregnancy and Other Things New and Expecting Mothers Should Know

This article was published by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization that publishes investigative journalism. New Mexico In Depth is part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Over the next three months, nearly a million women in the United States will give birth to nearly a million babies — a huge influx of mostly healthy, highly vulnerable patients into a hospital system that’s about to come under unprecedented strain. Pregnant women, not surprisingly, are anxious. Those in their third trimester, looking to deliver during an epidemic, are close to frantic.

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.

Albuquerque VA Medical Center Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

An Albuquerque Veterans Affairs Medical Center employee tested positive for COVID-19 on March 12, a VA spokeswoman confirmed to New Mexico In Depth Wednesday morning — nearly a week after the hospital received that test result. 

The state Department of Health confirmed Wednesday morning that the infected employee was a physician. That physician was a close household member of a person who had traveled recently, a spokesman wrote in an email. The VA on Wednesday morning declined to confirm the employee’s profession, citing privacy concerns. 

“The facility is currently awaiting confirmatory results from the Centers for Disease Control,” VA spokeswoman Paula Aragon wrote in an email following repeated requests for information. “Due to privacy concerns, we cannot provide additional information.”

However, the NMDOH announced last week that tests “no longer need to be verified positive by the CDC.”

New Mexico In Depth obtained a March 17 e-mail authored by Medical Center Director Andrew M. Welch to VA staff noting that both the employee and those VA staff and patients “who had significant exposure” to the employee were sent home for 14 days of quarantine and home monitoring by the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH). No patients or staff who were similarly isolated at home because of contact with this employee have developed symptoms, Aragon reported Wednesday morning.