MON: Hospitals Plead For People To Stay Home As Daily Virus Cases Hit New Record, + More

Nov 9, 2020

New Mexico Hospitals Seeing Strain As COVID-19 Cases Climb - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Top medical officers for some of New Mexico's largest hospital systems say they are now at or above normal capacity as the coronavirus pandemic surges across the state.

They briefed reporters Monday, saying they're seeing the strain on staff and they won't be able to sustain the pace over the long term.

New Mexico reported another 1,418 confirmed infections Monday, smashing the previous record of 1,287 that was set Friday and Saturday. There have been a total of 56,289 COVID-19 cases in the state since the pandemic began

There were also 12 additional deaths, bringing that total to 1,130.

A Bernalillo County man in his 30s was among the 14 additional deaths reported Sunday.

Presbyterian Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Mitchell says the hospitals are operating under contingency plans. He's among those pleading with people to stay home to curb the spread of the virus.

More than 1,200 additional cases have been reported in each of the last three days as hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise.

The hospital officials urged people to avoid gatherings and to think twice about hosting holiday events.

Despite having some of the toughest public health restrictions since the pandemic started, New Mexico has been struggling with exponential increases over the past month.

The seven-day rolling average for positivity stands at more than 9% and the total number of cases for the state is close to topping 55,000, with more than 14% of those being reported in just the last week.

Search Warrants Served On Navajo Nation Amid Hemp CrackdownAssociated Press

A team of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers on Monday served search warrants on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, where the tribe has been cracking down on illegal hemp farm operations.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the warrants were sealed and he could not provide any details. He said only that the warrants stemmed from an ongoing investigation.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez tweeted Monday that tribal police were assisting in a multiagency operation and that there was no threat to the community. He said more information would be released later.

In October, more than a dozen people were arrested on drug charges at a motel in the area. Authorities alleged the suspects were trimming marijuana plants in multiple motel rooms as marijuana was being stored in other rooms. Investigators were trying to determine whether the suspects were tied to the hemp operations.

The Navajo Nation just weeks ago sued nearly three dozen people, accusing them of illegally growing hemp or marijuana on the reservation. The lawsuit claims that the operations are contaminating the tribe's water, land and other natural resources. It was the second such lawsuit the tribe's Department of Justice has filed this year.

The tribe does not have a regulatory system for industrial hemp on the vast reservation that spans parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

County Elects New Mexico's First Black District AttorneyLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Officials say voters in Doña Ana County have elected the first Black district attorney in New Mexico after he ran unopposed.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that 62-year-old Gerald Byers said he believes people will be able to work together toward the elusive goal of total justice.

Henry Valdez, director of the administrative office of district attorneys, has said he isn't aware of any other African Americans in the state who have held the office.

Byers said he began his career at the Bernalillo County district attorney's office while in school through a program that allowed third-year law students to prosecute cases under the supervision of a prosecutor.

Navajo Nation Reports 124 Additional Virus Cases, 2 DeathsAssociated Press

Health officials have reported 124 additional coronavirus cases and two additional deaths from the virus for the Navajo Nation as of Sunday.

In all, the tribe has reported more than 12,000 known cases and 593 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.

The tribe imposed a weekend curfew that ended early Monday due to the uncontrolled spread of the virus in 29 of its communities that has affected 29 communities throughout the reservation, which spans more than 27,000 square miles in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The spread in certain communities has been attributed largely to family gatherings and residents traveling off tribal lands.

New Mexico Reports 1,214 New COVID-19 Cases, 14 More Deaths

For the third consecutive day, New Mexico health officials reported nearly 1,300 additional COVID-19 cases on Sunday. They also reported 14 additional deaths. 

State Department of Health officials said there were 1,214 new coronavirus cases Sunday. There were 1,287 additional cases Saturday, a one-day record that was the same number reported Friday. But they said Saturday that 10 of the cases reported Friday had turned out to be duplicates or not lab-confirmed. 

With those adjustments and the latest reported cases, the statewide case total now has reached 54,881 with 1,118 known deaths.

New Mexico officials have warned that new records would be set over the coming weeks as the rate of spread remains high.

Navajo Nation Reports 158 New COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 158 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but no additional deaths. 

The latest figures released Saturday night bring the total number of known cases to 12,447 with 591 known deaths. 

Tribal health officials say 131,525 people have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,641 have recovered. 

The Navajo Nation Department of Health previously issued a health advisory warning to residents about the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus that has affected 29 communities throughout the reservation.

Officials have urged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit gatherings to less than five people. 

A daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. also remains in effect on the Navajo Nation. 

Legislature May Meet In Convention Center Amid Pandemic - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico legislators are grappling with the public health risks of convening their next session in January amid surging statewide rates of infection and deaths. 

A panel of leading legislators on Friday unveiled a proposal to move committee meetings to the downtown Santa Fe convention center to provide more spacious rooms for in-person committee hearings. 

Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf described a possible hybrid attendance model for the upcoming 60-day session that would close off public access to the Statehouse for floor debates and votes — but allow public attendance and comment at committee meetings in the convention center. A new coronavirus testing regimen for lawmakers and staff also is under consideration.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Capitol's committee rooms and corridors are tightly packed with lobbyists, pages and vendors of snacks and Native American jewelry, while the central rotunda serves as a staging ground for political demonstrations, business displays and artistic performances.

Several legislators balked at the hybrid proposal during an hourslong discussion Friday of potential health risks, constitutional requirements and whether the plan would undermine public compliance with emergency health orders that currently ban public gatherings of more than five people. Legislators are exempt from the requirements.

Rep. Debbie Armstrong of Albuquerque urged colleagues to postpone the session entirely until later in 2021. She said holding committee meetings in the convention center could compound the spreading of COVID-19, and noted that some legislators may decline to wear masks.

She said a new surge in infections is likely after Christmas and New Year's Day celebrations and prior to widespread application of a coronavirus vaccine.

Under state law, New Mexico's unsalaried Legislature convenes in mid-January for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even years.

That work could be delayed to a later "extraordinary session" with approval by a three-fifths vote of both legislative chambers, or a special session by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Raúl Burciaga, lead attorney to the Legislature and director of the Legislative Council Service.

New Mexico High Court Revisits Issue Of Spousal Testimony - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has revisited a 2019 decision that barred the state's court system from continued use of a longstanding legal privilege that disallows testimony by a defendant's spouse. 

The 2019 ruling said the so-called spousal communication privilege was based in misogyny and had "outlived its useful life," but the state high court on Thursday reinstated the privilege while ordering an advisory committee to study whether the privilege should be modified or abolished. 

The 2019 decision abolishing the privilege upheld the murder conviction of a Clovis man, David Gutierrez II, and the latest order affirms that part of the 2019 decision.

Some Veteran Teachers Skip Wave Of Pandemic-Era Retirements - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

At age 86, agriculture teacher Gerald Bonds, of Farmington, New Mexico, has seen plenty of crises during his career. He sees no reason to call it quits over the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bonds is in his 58th year of teaching at Farmington High School and, like most teachers in his state, has been instructing his students remotely — an arrangement he despises.

Confronted with the technology headaches of distance learning and the health risks, some teachers have retired early or taken leave from work. But many veteran instructors like Bonds are sticking it out.

New Mexico is tied with Maine for having the oldest teachers in the country, with one in four older than 55, according to a 2018 National Center for Education Statistics survey of teachers and principals. And almost 6% of New Mexico's teachers and teaching assistants are 65 or older, according to data from the New Mexico Public Education Department. 

With few exceptions, New Mexico's schools have been providing only distance learning, which so far has spared many teachers from having to consider the health risks that could come from being in classrooms with students. 

Bonds said he has been adapting to distance learning, with the assistance of colleagues who help him file lesson plans online and set up video chats. But it has been difficult because teaching students about raising animals and growing plants is fundamentally hands-on.