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.
Jasmine Yepa was happy with her daughters’ education at San Diego Riverside Charter School and Walatowa Headstart in Jemez Pueblo.Certified education assistants speak Towa, the Pueblo’s traditional language, with students while teachers build lesson plans in English. The education assistants also translate English lesson plans into Towa, giving children additional opportunities to hear and speak the language in a classroom setting.
Through her work at the Native American Budget and Policy Institute, Yepa understands the importance of her daughters learning their culture and language to dilute what she calls a “white washed system” that assimilates non-white students into American culture. “Celebrating multiculturalism and multilingualism should help foster appreciation of diversity and foster respect for people’s differences,” she said. “It’s something that all policy makers should understand. Language and culture plays a huge role in not only maintaining our cultural way of life but also our core values.”
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 has separated some Native American women from their newly born babies, the result of a practice designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 that clinicians and health care ethicists described as racial profiling.
Hundreds of nonviolent New Mexico prison inmates, including people convicted of drug possession, remained behind bars last week, even as COVID-19 killed its first state prisoner and infected one in three inmates at the Otero County Prison Facility near the southern border. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has won national praise for how she’s led New Mexico through the pandemic, is facing questions over why she hasn’t moved more aggressively to ensure more of the state’s 11 prisons don’t become viral hotspots.
Since March, her administration has freed about 50 inmates — less than 1% of the state’s prison population — through an April 6 order that requires her to commute sentences rather than using a law already on the books that would allow hundreds of prisoners to be released early.
The minimal prisoner releases pale next to what some states have done to ease crowding in — and the 30% reduction New Mexico counties have accomplished in the state’s 27 jails. Lujan Grisham’s approach has given some pause, especially given the first-term Democrat’s advocacy for legalizing recreational cannabis and her recent creation of a Council for Racial Justice in response to protests that spilled into New Mexico streets over the killing by police of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis.
About one quarter of those locked up in New Mexico’s prisons are in for nonviolent drug offenses, including many, some long-time criminal justice watchers say, who were prosecuted for possessing marijuana — an offense that would be legal if New Mexico green-lighted recreational cannabis as Lujan Grisham has lobbied. Hispanic and black people are disproportionately incarcerated in New Mexico, as they are nationwide.
State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, believed the pandemic represented a “golden opportunity” for the Lujan Grisham administration to try a different approach besides prison, but he’s “very disappointed,” he said.
“They basically haven’t dented the prison population, and now there is an outbreak which anyone could have predicted,” Ortiz y Pino said. “I have been concerned about why we have these kinds of low-level drug offenders locked up for a long time, and I am even more concerned now.”
Mark Donatelli, a longtime criminal defense and civil rights lawyer based in Santa Fe, wants to know why the governor hasn’t released prisoners using the Community Corrections Act.
The naked eye can’t tell you much about methane. Sometimes, distortion wavers above an open pipe or tank at an oil and gas well like the haze of heat over a desert highway. When Earthworks’ Sharon Wilson aims her FLIR camera, however, the screen renders the scene in black and white and plumes of black smoke can be seen wafting skyward.
“There are so many pipes and vents and tubes, it’s a lot of opportunity for holes,” said Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate with Earthworks, an environmental organization that monitors and reports methane emissions to regulators. “This industry is built to leak.”
Oil and gas engineers say that’s the system releasing pressure before it compromises equipment, well production, or worker safety. But those pressure valves leak methane.
The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center Jeff Proctor/NMID
New Mexico’s 27 adult county jails have slashed their combined population by a third since the new coronavirus began tearing through the state 11 weeks ago, according to data gathered by the New Mexico Association of Counties. On March 13, two days after New Mexico saw its first confirmed COVID-19 cases, counties held nearly 6,000 men and women behind bars; by Wednesday, May 27, around 4,000 sat in jails around the state, the vast majority of them awaiting trial. District attorneys, public defenders and county officials told New Mexico In Depth the rapid population reductions could signal a long-term shift toward locking fewer people up, in a state that historically has had higher rates of incarceration in jails than most others. Some of the largest dips have been in counties hardest hit by the virus, including McKinley (more than a 60% decrease) and San Juan (with a 45% decline). The numbers appear to be ticking back up since the low point on May 1, but Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Association of Counties, calls the overall trend a “significant reduction.”
The sharp decline comes from a joint effort to avoid an outbreak in jails of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of inmates and guards nationwide, killing hundreds.