New Mexico Department of Health changes format again for COVID-19 update
New Mexico Department of Health officials changed course again on the delivery of their weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday in response to media and public criticism of the format on January 19th. KUNM followed up on the change and what it means for public access during the omicron surge.
The COVID-19 updated format introduced on January 19th ended the live social media feed and asked reporters to submit questions in advance to be invited to the update where a public information officer from the Department of Transportation read approved questions. Journalists, government transparency watchdogs and members of the public criticized the approach.
One week later, the format changed again in response to that criticism. Transportation Department spokesperson, Marisa Maez, asked for patience.
"It's just kind of a work in progress for us," she said. "We're trying to balance giving some time back to professionals to do their jobs, but also allowing you your time and was never our intention to keep you out of the loop or not allow you to make your own questions. We were just trying something different."
Reporters were able to ask their own questions live, but there was no live social media feed. Shannon Kunkel, director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said that’s not a good practice.
"It's certainly not ideal that the public cannot tune in live," Kunkel said. "That had been the practice since the beginning of the pandemic, and definitely allowed for better participation. And we would hope that the Department of Health would return to that format."
Also, while sign language interpreters were on hand as usual, there was no live Spanish interpretation, despite an inaugural effort to do so in December. A Spanish translation is posted along with the recording of the update on social media afterwards.
New Mexico Department of Health epidemiology reports