ByMarjorie Childress, Shaun Griswold, and Aliya Uteuova |
The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.”
Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.
Workers and guards outside an El Paso mobile morgue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Claudia Silva/New Mexico In Depth
It felt surreal pulling into the cemetery next to the University Medical Center of El Paso. Large trailers with doors flung wide open are lined up outside the medical examiner’s office tucked away just down the street. The trailers house rows of shelves holding the overflow of those who have died of COVID-19. As Texas has reached over 1 million cases, the border city of El Paso has become a hot-spot, some calling it the new New York, with one of every 20 to 30 people estimated to be positive.
As the situation has worsened the city’s prisoners have been asked to help handle the dead.
While a lot of us are caught up in watching the vote count in the presidential race this morning, the disturbing rise in COVID-19 infections in New Mexico this week has reminded me that who will lead this country for the next four years isn’t the only major story. “November is done,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said yesterday during an online COVID media briefing.
During the briefing, the daily update on infections and deaths popped into my inbox announcing 862 new cases and 23 deaths, jarring me out of a now familiar routine of tuning into COVID briefings and, this week, monitoring election results.
Yesterday’s death count far surpassed the previous record of 14 deaths in a single day. What Lujan Grisham meant by saying that November was done, was that those fatalities were seeded in October or September and now all we can do is make it through what will likely be a grim November.
We are experiencing a horrific surge in COVID cases, throughout the state, far exceeding last spring, or the second peak in the summer.
The backdrop is a hospital system busting at the seams. The ICU beds in the state are perilously close to being completely maxed out. The following graphs from yesterday’s briefing show that capacity could be exceeded in one to two weeks. When that happens, the hospitals will move into crisis standards of care.
The day starts early each Friday at the Mora Independent School District in northern New Mexico. Staff arrive before the sun is up to pack coolers of breakfasts and lunches to supply 310 remote students with five days of meals. By 9 a.m., loaded school buses rumble out of the parking lot on their delivery run.Another 25 students pick up meals at school cafeterias each week day, while 71 students attending in-person classes eat at school Monday through Thursday. It’s just the latest variation for Rachel Martinez, Mora schools food service director. Since COVID-19 shut down schools in March, she’s mailed meals through the postal service and distributed them using six fire departments around the rural district. She and other staff also have hand-delivered meals house to house. But in early September, the district started delivering meals to bus stops, sometimes as close to kids’ homes as the end of a driveway.
Bueno Para Todos, a small farm in Villanueva, began 2020 with a hoop house and four planted areas enclosed in wooden frames raised above the ground. A few chokecherry and apricot trees planted years ago had taken root along the sun-soaked valley floor. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, throwing people out of work and wiping grocery store shelves bare.Six months later, the pandemic’s imprint on the small farm in the Pecos river valley of central New Mexico is easy to see. Twelve raised planting beds and three-quarters of an acre of newly planted plum, cherry, nectarine, and apricot trees grow alongside a waffle garden, a Zuni farming technique, of corn, beans, squash, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and herb. A rain catchment and drip irrigation system is coming soon. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, but one overlooked positive might be a rise in interest in gardening and local farms becoming a source for helping to feed a growing population of New Mexicans whose next meal is not guaranteed.
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.
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.