The virus’ wake-up call for New Mexico

Nearly seven months into a mostly successful fight with COVID-19, New Mexicans are having to digest the unwelcome news that the virus isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it seems to have discovered its second wind.Twice in as many days this week the number of daily infections has shattered New Mexico’s single-day record. And as we did in March and April, suddenly we’re hearing that COVID-19 might overwhelm our state’s health care system if we’re not careful. Hospitalizations have jumped 74% since Oct. 1 and some intensive care units in Albuquerque are already full.Gatherings of more than five people will be illegal starting today and establishments that sell alcohol must close at 10 p.m., according to a new public health order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that extends through Nov. 13.In addition, New Mexico will require travelers coming from high-risk states to quarantine for 14 days instead of allowing them to avoid the isolation if they test negative, as was the previous practice.“I cannot be more clear: The moment to turn the tide has to be right now, immediately, or else we face accelerating significant illnesses and needless deaths for hundreds of New Mexicans,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a press release.

Doing impactful journalism in a chaotic world

I got into journalism years ago out of a desire to help people, as much a calling as a job. The last several days have reminded me why. A federal investigation released last week backed up the reporting of Bryant Furlow who wrote in June for us and our partner, ProPublica, that Lovelace Women’s Hospital had violated patients’ rights. Indeed, the investigation by the state of New Mexico and U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found the hospital had singled out pregnant Native American women for COVID-19 testing and separated mothers from their newborns without adequate consent until test results became available.Lovelace has submitted a plan to correct problems and has promised to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance.Lovelace has denied any wrongdoing, saying it never separated a baby from their mother without consent.But Native American mothers told investigators they “felt pressured or misled by the hospital when it came to ZIP code-based COVID-19 testing and newborn separations.”In one case, a Native American mother told investigators she was tested for COVID-19 without being informed she could say no. Only once labor had been induced, she told investigators, did a nurse-midwife explain that her newborn would be taken until her test results were available, NM In Depth reported.  

She then was given two options, the mother told investigators: 

She could stop the medication inducing contractions and sleep while she waited for test results, or she could continue the birth process and have her newborn taken away “because that’s the policy.”

“I told her, ‘You are not going to do that, and you are not going to take my baby,’” she told investigators.

Reject Birtherism 2.0

Before Donald J. Trump was president, he repeatedly demanded to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. A leader in a “birtherism” movement that openly called into question Obama’s citizenship, the bigotry by the then-New York developer and reality TV show celebrity helped propel him into the presidency in 2016. Is it any surprise then that this week Trump, now president, is reprising his role as Birther No. 1? In a press conference Thursday, President Trump gave credibility to racist conspiracy theories that call into question Kamala Harris’ eligibility to run as Joe Biden’s running mate.

Even if Albuquerque isn’t the next Portland you should pay attention

Federal agents are coming to Albuquerque, but officials have assured residents that New Mexico’s largest city isn’t the next Portland. In Portland, protests for racial justice have continued nonstop since the killing of George Floyd in late May but had decreased in size, according to the local paper, by the time the Trump administration sent in federal agents early this month, ostensibly to protect federal property and guard public statues. That injection energized the protests, leading to nightly confrontations as throngs of new and old protestors clashed with camo-wearing, unidentified police roaming the streets. The Oregon Attorney General, responding to accounts, has accused federal agents of whisking people away in unmarked vehicles without probable cause in at least two instances, and two federal watchdogs have opened investigations. 

Images of tear gassed crowds and burning statues in that Pacific Northwest city have flashed across the country, putting to bed the wisdom of thinking that a show of dominance can be a calming force. But those images are likely one goal of a president seeking re-election on a law-and-order platform. I anticipate more than a few campaign ads over the next three and a half months featuring clashes between federal agents and Portlanders with a man’s voice intoning order against chaos and violence in America’s cities.

Will long-term change follow protests?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve watched protests swell in cities across the country and Black Lives Matter attract millions of new supporters to their cause after the killing of George Floyd.U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has walked with protestors. Confederate monuments are toppling and white childhood friends of mine from Georgia have signaled they want to learn about “systemic” racism. Even NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag. 

We’re experiencing a cultural shift, breathtaking in its pace. 

As agitation for change sweeps the United States (and the globe), it leaves many of us  wondering if today’s marches will lead to deep, substantive changes tomorrow in a centuries-old system that has demonstrated its resilience. 

Still, the passion one sees on the streets is hard to ignore. Protestor after protestor in TV, radio and newspaper interviews cite familiar reasons for turning out. 

Police brutality. Over-policing in communities of color.

COVID-19: The good, the bad and the uncertain as New Mexico eyes re-opening

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the first time Wednesday revealed what marks the state of New Mexico might need to hit before it starts to reopen its economy, as state officials presented good news about progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve. But the reopening won’t be immediate. Lujan Grisham said she had decided to extend her stay-at-home order through May 15.  

Wednesday’s presentation followed that general outline, good news tinged with bad and a note of  uncertainty. 

Six more deaths were reported and McKinley County, the state’s current hotspot, had a per capita infection rate seven times larger than Bernalillo County, which has the largest number of positive cases.In contrast, for the first time, the state is no longer projecting a statewide shortage of hospital beds, with Santa Fe County, in particular, doing a good job in flattening the curve, said Dr. David Scrase, Lujan Grisham’s human services secretary.  

Dr. Scrase presented a slide showing how the COVID-19 curve is flattening in key New Mexico counties. “This is good news, we’re doing it right,” the governor said. If New Mexicans continue to stay the course, the state can get to a point where a methodical, careful re-opening could happen. Lujan Grisham announced the formation of an economic recovery council composed of 15 business leaders around the state, who will help inform the process of re-opening the state.

Friday’s COVID-19 update: Modeling the surge, handling the peak

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday told New Mexico that three more people have died from COVID-19, a total of 10 in the three weeks since March 11, the day the state identified its first positive case. Two were residents of a retirement community in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, the number of infections rose to 495, nearly a 25% escalation from the previous total, 403. It’s a striking rise, but “we are doing more testing,” the governor said, acknowledging a truism about an infectious disease: the more you test, the more you know. In other words, data is a good thing, a point the governor’s Human Services Secretary David Scrase returned to a few minutes later.

Officials predict dire consequences if state doesn’t practice social distancing

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced a fifth COVID-19 death in New Mexico, a Bernalillo County man in his 40s. 

That was just the beginning of the grim news. State officials, using what they called a more accurate model than one quoted widely in recent days from the University of Washington, said anywhere from 2,500 to 12,500 New Mexicans could die over the life of the pandemic. That is, if they don’t do a better job of social distancing.Lujan Grisham said repeatedly during Tuesday’s hour-and-a-half long press conference that New Mexicans had to improve their commitment to not going out in public and to mingle in groups of fewer than five individuals. Social distancing is the best weapon New Mexico has to fight COVID-19, the governor said, looking into the cameras broadcasting her warnings from the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. As of Tuesday, New Mexico had 315 confirmed cases out of more than 13,000 tested, according to the state Department of Health.  But many more cases — and deaths — are coming.

Coronavirus: Lessons learned to help us weather the current situation

Yesterday as I watched Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference about Covid-19 via livestream I flashed back to 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was sweeping the globe. The moment strengthened an urge I’ve had the past few days to think about the lessons I learned more than a decade and a half ago.At the time of the SARS outbreak, I was working in Hartford, Conn. and already pondering how diseases spread. I’d spent late 2001 and early 2002 covering anthrax after a 94-year-old woman living 10 or so miles from our family was one of five Americans to succumb to the disease. I mention anthrax only because it introduced me to epidemiology, a branch of medical science that tracks infectious diseases.

Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings

As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.