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.

State: NM public schools closed through end of year

State public education officials on Friday announced all schools under the purview of the Public Education Department will remain closed through the end of the school year. 

PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said the new measure is “absolutely necessary” to keep students safe and slow the spread of COVID-19 and was always the back-up plan. The decision is in line with CDC guidelines and the state’s mitigation policies, he added. “We know that we still haven’t reached the peak of this,” he said. “It’s quite clear that it is not yet safe to be able to bring our students back into school and that we still have more to do in order to make sure we can come back.”

The announcement extends the original return date of April 6 through the end of the spring semester, which for most districts goes through the last week of May. Stewart said teacher pay will not be affected, and in a press release the PED said “School personnel and contractors will remain on call and continue being paid as usual.

Stay at home order a ‘perfect recipe for a nightmare’ of domestic violence

With the latest order from the governor’s office asking all New Mexicans to stay home except for issues of health and safety – like grocery shopping or going to a doctor – victims of domestic violence may be stuck in their homes, too, with their abusers. “This is probably an abuser’s dream,” said Jessica Fierro, a victim advocacy unit director for the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque. “It’s the perfect recipe for a nightmare.”

The Centers for Disease Control list unemployment and social isolation, both consequences of efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, as risk factors for violence. “Things are very scary and unsure and uncertain, and that just puts even more stress on our victims of domestic violence and on the offenders,” Fierro said. 

Most organizations are adapting to reach clients and meet the needs of domestic violence victims. The DVRC is strengthening its telecommunications services, Fierro said, to help as many people as it can after shutting down its face-to-face operations. 

The DVRC’s 24/7 hotline automatically transfers to one of its employees working from home. That person can then direct the caller to the service or staff member that can best help them. 

Once a caller connects through the main office, a staff member will connect the caller with  an advocate who can help the caller over the phone, so no person-to-person contact is needed. 

“If they just want to talk to somebody and maybe just vent, we’re there for that as well,” Fierro said.

The VA Will Now Let Some Administrative Staff Work From Home

This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reversed course to allow some administrative staff to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Saturday memo obtained by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. “Managers and supervisors are encouraged to maximize telework during regular business hours, as appropriate,” wrote Richard A. Stone, the Veterans Health Administration’s executive in charge. The memo was sent to the VHA’s senior leadership on Saturday, one day after New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica reported that Stone had banned such telework authorizations, citing concerns that too many people working from home could overwhelm the VA computer network.