Joseph Chavez. Image courtesy of his family. Joseph Chavez says he gets one “tiny” bar of soap a week, gratis. If he wants more, it’ll cost him. And yet, corrections officers have for weeks steadily reminded Chavez, 42, and the other inmates being held with him in solitary confinement cells at the Penitentiary of New Mexico’s south facility near Santa Fe that they need to wash their hands.
New Mexico In Depth welcomes reporter Shaun Griswold to our team beginning next week. Shaun is Pueblo from Laguna, Jemez and Zuni, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup.
He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience to our team. He’s covered Rocky Mountain fire seasons, local police reform, and, as he is sure to note, the Denver Broncos and Kendrick Lamar.
We’re thrilled by the opportunity to work with Shaun, thanks to Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities through its reporting corps. Report for America is an initiative of the nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project. He joins 225 reporters placed by the program in 162 newsrooms around the country, from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants.
For New Mexico In Depth, Shaun will focus on issues important to urban Indigenous people in Albuquerque, as well as tribal communities throughout New Mexico, including education, child welfare, and more.
“I’m excited to join the ranks of Indigenous journalists at Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, High Country News and every publication focused on expanding news for thriving Indigenous communities that demand coverage,” he says about this opportunity.
Native Americans compose 11% of the New Mexico state population, and Albuquerque is home to one of the largest communities of urban Indian people in the country.
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.
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima speaks at an online City Council meeting, March 30, 2020. Medical staff and city council members encouraged Mayor Ken Miyagishima to proclaim an emergency during a meeting of the City Council on Monday as some Las Crucens continue to mingle in large groups despite warnings against such behavior. The council gave Miyagishima emergency powers at a March 27 meeting but he has yet to use them because he didn’t want to make the situation urgent and cause panic among community members, he said during Monday’s meeting conducted online.
But Councilor Gabriel Vasquez, District 3, citing people who are still seen out in public in large groups, at parks and at businesses, asked health care professionals sitting in on the online meeting whether they thought it was time for the mayor to take emergency action to limit the size of groups. “As an infection preventionist, I’m going to say yes,” said Twyla Anderson, the infection preventionist from Memorial Medical Center, a local hospital, said. “Unfortunately we would like the public to take recommendations and follow through, but I think we’ve seen behavior, you’ve seen behavior, that they just don’t take it seriously enough.
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.
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.
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.
Santa Fe County officials are awaiting the results of the first COVID-19 test conducted in their jail. Authorities arrested a man in Albuquerque over the weekend who was wanted on a U.S. Marshals Service warrant, Santa Fe Warden Derek Williams said in an interview. The man had been in California and, under a contract the county has, he was booked into the jail about 15 miles from the capitol. Not long after his arrival, the man showed signs of a possible COVID-19 infection, the warden said. He was immediately moved into what jail officials are calling the “quarantine pod” — an area inside the jail with a dozen cells designated for anyone with symptoms of the virus.