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.
It’s late in the evening when I’m able to reach Yasmin Cervantes. She tells me she’s feeling nervous because she’s never done an interview before. We both chuckle. I reassure her that we’re just having a conversation about her experience. She chuckles again and begins to tell me about her day.
This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up to receive ProPublica’s biggest stories as soon as they’re published. And sign up to receive New Mexico In Depth stories here. ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A prominent women’s hospital here violated patients’ rights by singling out pregnant Native American women for COVID-19 testing and separating them from their newborns without adequate consent until test results became available, according to a federal investigation disclosed to New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. Lovelace Women’s Hospital did not admit to any wrongdoing but reported that the practice has been halted. Hospital officials submitted a plan to fix problems identified by investigators, including a promise to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance.
About 30 toddlers had already arrived on July 13 for their day at the UNM Children’s Campus when Daniela Baca learned someone who visited the center regularly had tested positive for COVID-19.
Within an hour, the facility had emptied out and she had contacted the state health department. “We needed to stop accepting children,” she said. “We switched gears into making sure that we notified families what was going on.”
By mid-day, Baca had shifted her focus from caring for children to working with a pandemic rapid response team composed of workers from several state agencies. The team tested all staff and children that came into contact with the person infected by the virus, sanitized every inch inside and outside. They also tried to find out every person the infected person might have come into contact to prevent the spread at other locations.
New Mexico’s tribal communities suddenly find themselves in a rush to reorganize their plans to ensure a complete census count after federal authorities on Monday abruptly moved the deadline up by a month, from the end of October to September 30.
“We have pretty much lost a month of time to be able to gain that accurate count in our communities,” Ahtza Dawn Chavez, Executive Director of the Native American Voters Alliance Education Project, which heads up the New Mexico Native Census Coalition, told state leaders on Tuesday during a legislative hearing at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. “Our average self response rate is just over 30 percent, we have a lot of work to do going forward.”
American Indian leaders across the country have reacted strongly to the news. In a joint statement issued Wednesday, national Native organizations said they were “deeply alarmed and concerned with this unwarranted and irresponsible decision.” “Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the Census enumeration period was a humane lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe that provided critically needed additional time to tribal nations to ensure that all of everyone in their communities are counted,” the statement said.In a separate statement, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, who made history in 2018 as one of two indigenous women elected to Congress, said changing the deadline “flies in the face of Director (Steven) Dillinghan’s promise to me that he understood the importance of meeting our needs.”
The once-a-decade census count provides population numbers that determine to a large degree how much public money flows to tribes and other communities through federal, state and local funding programs. The new deadline threatens to increase chances for an undercount in tribal communities that currently have a response rate far below the national rate of 63%.
The presentation by Chavez to the New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the census count. Census officials need access to tribal lands to complete the count. Their work includes door-to-door drops of census packets and in-person follow-up visits to homes that haven’t responded.
But census workers need permission of tribal authorities to enter tribal communities, and several tribes in New Mexico, which have been disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic, are currently closed to non-members due to the public health emergency.
As my Dad packed his bag for his next trip, we talked about how coronavirus had affected his work. A truck driver that keeps food on tables, toilet paper in bathrooms, and medicine on shelves, he has a crucial role in an economy battered by the coronavirus.
When the pandemic first hit and panic buying cleared grocery shelves, there was a moment when the value of those who drive through the night to deliver important goods across the country came into national focus. But largely, it’s an unseen role.
My pandemic experience has been vastly different than his as city ordinances advised me to stay home and only go out when necessary. But I’ve been wondering, what is life like when you’re an essential worker who has to be on the road during a pandemic? Dad started folding his shirts as he mentioned one of the most basic challenges for him: eating. So accessible at home, food is nearly impossible to find while on the road.
Dining rooms at restaurants have been closed for a while, which means he can’t order food.
Roslyn K. Pulitzer drew her final breath holding the ungloved hand of Kay Lockridge, her partner of 36 years, on the morning of Thursday, April 30, at the University of New Mexico Hospital’s intensive care unit in Albuquerque.
“Roz knew I was there, although she couldn’t talk because of her breathing apparatus and mask,” Lockridge said. “She winked at me and squeezed my hand.”
Women’s rights activist and photographer Roslyn K. “Roz” Pulitzer holding a T-shirt with text from the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Pulitzer died of COVID-19 in April 2020. Image: Shelly Moore. Pulitzer was the first Santa Fe resident to die of COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Going against federal guidance during the era of COVID-19, Albuquerque city personnel periodically roust homeless encampments. Waking inhabitants before sunrise, police deliver orders over a megaphone for men, women, sometimes families to move along in as quickly as 30 minutes.In the frenzy of gathering themselves and belongings people have lost birth certificates and state identification cards as well as valuable personal mementoes, according to interviews reviewed by New Mexico In Depth conducted by a local service group that helps people living on Albuquerque’s streets. Camps spring up regularly around Albuquerque, where every day hundreds live on the streets, particularly in downtown, in parks, under overpasses, tucked away in alleyways, in the doorways of businesses, and sometimes, on sidewalks.
Continuing a practice that was normal in pre-COVID-19 times, the city never lets them last for long, even while it’s unknown how many homeless people may have contracted the virus in Albuquerque so far.
One service organization, citing guidelines issued in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wants the practice of breaking up camps to stop.
Street Safe New Mexico, a service organization helping homeless communities, women living on the streets and trafficking victims, says the regular sweeps inject more danger into already precarious lives because of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.For example, Executive Director Christine Barber said, one man was asked to leave his camp two days after being tested for COVID-19. “He was potentially walking around the streets infecting people instead of being at his camp,” Barber said. “The policy is directly hurting people.”
The federal agency’s guidance on working with homeless populations during the pandemic, specifically camps, says “Clearing [homeless] encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, “increasing “the potential for infectious disease spread,” according to the guidelines.
As the coronavirus established a foothold in southern New Mexico’s Otero County Prison Facility in mid-May, state officials quietly moved 39 inmates out of the massive complex near the Texas border to another prison near Santa Fe. The inmates shared something in common: None was a sex offender. In the days before the 39 departed the massive correctional complex where New Mexico’s only sex offender treatment program is housed, officials were still transferring sex offenders from other state prisons into Otero. It was a routine practice they had yet to stop, even though more than a dozen COVID-19 cases had already emerged elsewhere in the prison.
Six weeks later, 434 inmates — or 80% — have the virus, within a prison population that’s now entirely composed of people who, at one time or another, were convicted of a state sex offense. Three have died.
This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up to receive ProPublica’s biggest stories as soon as they’re published. And sign up to receive New Mexico In Depth stories here. ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal regulators are ramping up scrutiny of a prominent women’s hospital here after clinicians’ allegations that Native Americans had been racially profiled for extra COVID-19 screening, leading to the temporary separation of some mothers from their newborns. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will refer findings from state investigators about a violation of patient rights at Lovelace Women’s Hospital to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, state officials said. The state Department of Health declined to specify details of the violations it had found.