THURS: COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 60,000 With Another Daily Record, + More

Nov 12, 2020

New Mexico Marks Highest Daily Count Of COVID-19 CasesAssociated Press

New Mexico has marked its highest daily count of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Health officials on Thursday reported an additional 1,753 cases to push the statewide tally to more than 60,770. Eighteen deaths also were reported.

The state has been struggling with uncontrollable spread in recent weeks and health care administrators have warned that many hospitals are at or near capacity.

In Albuquerque, an alternate care overflow facility designed to house coronavirus patients has remained locked and unused.

The state is considering a federal request for Department of Defense military personnel to staff the facility.

New Mexico Overflow Facility Remains Locked As Cases SpikeAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

An alternate care overflow facility in New Mexico designed to house coronavirus patients has remained locked and unused as hospitals across the state are increasingly slammed.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that New Mexico and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invested $3.6 million to renovate a now-closed hospital, promising it would be "operational" by April 27 for patients recovering from COVID-19.

The state signed a one-year lease to use the Gibson Medical Center for $8.6 million a year.

But it is still unclear when or if the space will be used. The New Mexico Health Department said in a written statement that the center remains an option for addressing overcrowding.

The state smashed another daily record Thursday with 1,753 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 60,776.

There were also 18 more deaths, bringing that total to 1,176. There are 471 people hospitalized for COVID-19.

New Mexico Appoints Leader To Health Agency Amid Virus Surge - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A public health expert at the University of New Mexico has been appointed to lead the state's Health Department amid surging daily rates of coronavirus infection.

Physician Tracie Collins was appointed Wednesday to lead an agency that is a cornerstone of the state's response to COVID-19. Gov. Michelle Lujan says she chose Collins based on the need for "experienced and compassionate public health leadership."

Collins, who has guided virus-testing and tracing protocols at the state's flagship university, said her work as health secretary will involve helping people protect each other from COVID-19 in private settings amid indications that the virus is spreading at social and family gatherings that are beyond the direct reach of emergency health orders.

Collins, who is African American, expressed optimism that New Mexico will receive meaningful new support from the administration of President-elect Joe Biden to contend with COVID-19 and bolster testing capacity.

"We've had to fend for ourselves," Collins said. "I think that the Biden-Harris administration will provide more opportunities. ... We are well into this pandemic, but we can't let up now."

The state struggled initially to secure protective supplies and joined a testing pilot program coordinated by the federal government.

The governor has been a staunch critic of President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic response.

Collins said she feels well prepared to lead the agency in a time of crisis based on research work involving patients from diverse backgrounds and masters' degrees in public health and the science of health care delivery. New Mexico's population is nearly half Latino, and about 10% of residents are Native American.

"I definitely have an interest and passion for social justice, and it includes in health care delivery," Collins said. "As we get through the pandemic, I'll be turning my attention to a lot of other issues, including health care delivery and making sure that we do a good job of delivering health care equitably and that people who are of color don't feel like they are at a disadvantage just by being a minority when they step foot in a hospital."

She will oversee an agency with more than 800 full-time employees that is at the forefront of the state's coronavirus testing and contact tracing efforts.

The Health Department is the final author of emergency public health orders that currently require face masks in public, ban public gatherings of more than five people and have shut down entertainment venues.

Collins will replace former Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel, who announced her retirement months ago, and work on the Cabinet alongside Human Services Secretary David Scrase, who has coordinated emergency coronavirus services with the medical sector.

Experts Say Neglect Prevention Key To Better Childhood Outcomes -

By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Any efforts in New Mexico to build a successful early childhood education system will depend on the state's ability to prevent child neglect and abuse.

Members of a task force focused on child well-being relayed their findings to a panel of state lawmakers Thursday.

Taskforce Chairman Dr. Andrew Hsi of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center says it has been difficult to organize state leadership around the issue of prevention despite troubling statistics.

The team of experts pointed to data suggesting 1 out of 2 New Mexico children have at least one adverse experience by the time they are 3.

The task force over the past year has been monitoring efforts by health care providers and others to implement the provision of a 2019 law that calls for plans of care to be developed for children born exposed to drugs or alcohol.

The idea has been to identify vulnerable families and help them find support during the first year of the child's life.

More than 1,000 such plans have been created around the state. Officials said the majority of those families and their babies have followed through and are being monitored.

While the effort has no specific state funding to back it up, some lawmakers suggested that the state agencies focused on child welfare better coordinate so that tracking and monitoring at-risk families could be institutionalized and receive regular funding.

Hsi said some advocates believe that early childhood education would be a solution to the issue of prevention, but he warned that the majority of families wouldn't be reached by such a singular focus.

Navajo Nation Reports 98 New COVID-19 Cases And 1 More DeathAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 98 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

The latest figures released Wednesday night bring the total number of known cases to 12,818 with 596 known deaths. Tribal health officials say 134,358 people have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,828 have recovered.

The Navajo Nation Department of Health has warned residents of the "uncontrolled spread" of COVID-19 in 34 communities on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation will have a 56-hour weekend curfew beginning Friday night. Tribal officials already have urged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit gatherings to less than five people.

New Mexico Treasurer Says Methane Proposal Has LoopholesAssociated Press

New Mexico's state treasurer is calling on state environmental regulators to close loopholes in proposed rules aimed at reducing emissions of methane and other pollutants from the oil and natural gas industry.

State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg said Wednesday he has joined with a long list of socially responsible investment groups that are citing gaps in the proposed regulations.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says that New Mexico stands to have some of the most expansive rules for addressing methane and other emissions from the industry after many meetings with industry experts and environmentalists.

Proposed rules by the energy agency deal with waste due to venting and flaring in oilfields. The draft rules released by the environment department target oil and natural gas equipment that emit volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

The energy department's proposal will be the focus of a public hearing in January before the state Oil Conservation Commission, while the environment department is weighing hundreds of public comments before finalizing its version.

Eichenberg and investment groups that include Christian religious orders say the environmental agency rules would exempt the vast majority of wells in New Mexico from leak detection and repair requirements, in reference to exceptions for low-production wells.

They also say regulators should add more enforcement provisions to ensure companies don't routinely release or burn off excess natural gas.

The agencies said Wednesday they plan to meet with Ceres, the environmental investment network that was behind the letter, to learn more about the group's claims and the analyses it performed.

COVID Survivor: Double Lung Transplant 'A Walking Miracle' - By Terry Tang Associated Press

Seven months after he was first hospitalized with COVID-19, a utility worker from Las Cruces, New Mexico, has a brand new set of lungs.

Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where the transplant took place, are expected to release 52-year-old Arthur Sanchez on Saturday.

He is the first of two double lung transplants the hospital has performed on coronavirus patients since the pandemic began. There have been reports of a handful of COVID patients nationwide who have received a lung transplant.

Sanchez has called himself "a walking miracle." Doctors say he spent more than 115 days in various hospitals during his battle with the virus.