Albuquerque, New Mexico and the country has seen a remarkable and historical time as all government struggles to deal with the coronavirus and suppress the curve on the highly contagious virus.
Following are the major highlights:
GOVERNOR MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM DECLARES PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY
On March 11, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first New Mexico Governor to invoke the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA), issuing an Executive Order declaring a “public health emergency” giving her administration broad powers to deal with the coronavirus . The governor urged people to avoid public gatherings, sanitize common surfaces and minimize contact with other individuals, even if it means staying home from church or going out less often in order to slow transmission of the virus.
During a press conference declaring the emergency, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico has 2,400 tests available to determine who has the coronavirus. Health officials will be determining who is most in need of the test. The state has completed about 129 tests for the coronavirus so far and just 5 have turned up “presumptive positive.”
In announcing the Public Health Emergency the Governor had this to say:
“This is a very highly infectious virus. … This is a serious situation. I will use every tool and resource to keep us safe.”
STOCK MARKET CRASH
On Friday, March 12, 2020, the stock market crashed to its worst day since 1987, shrugging off dramatic intervention by two central banks and a prime-time address by President Trump as Americans realized the coronavirus will impose new limits on their daily lives.
The Dow Jones industrial average posted its largest one-day point loss in history, dropping almost 2,353 points to close at 21,200.62. In percentage terms, the 10 percent loss marked the Dow’s worst day since the infamous October day known as “Black Monday.”
The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell into a bear market, defined as falling 20 percent from a prior high. In an epic day-long rout, European markets suffered similar declines, with exchanges in Paris and Frankfurt shedding more than 12 percent and London’s FTSE index losing nearly 11 percent.
EVENTS SCHEDULED AT STATE OWNED FACILTIES CANCELLED
In the interest of public safety, Governor Lujan Grisham ordered the cancellation or postponement of all events in state-owned facilities including the Gathering of Nations. All events at Expo New Mexico have been canceled at least through the end of March. These include the Monster Jam, Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival, the World Series of Team Roping, ABQ Rubber Stamp Show, Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Festival, Central New Mexico STEM Research Challenge, MasterWorks of New Mexico, New Mexico Renaissance Celtic Festival, New Mexico Photographic Art Show, and Treasures of the Earth Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Expo. The flea markets have also been closed through the end of the month.
NEW MEXICO HEALTH SECRETARY ANNOUNCES BAN ON PUBLIC GATHERINGS
On March 12, New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced a temporary ban on public mass gatherings of 100 people or more, as the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have rapidly intensified. Secretary Kunkel has the authority to impose the ban under the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA) now that the Governor has declared a public health emergency. Mass gathering means any public or private gathering that brings together 100 or more individuals in a single room or connected space in close proximity to one another.
The ban announced by Secretary Kunkel applies to facilities such as auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theaters, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space. The ban took effect immediately. However, airports, public transportation and shopping malls are exempt from the order. It also does not apply to weddings, funerals, restaurants, bars, hospitals and schools, retail stores, grocery stores, offices, businesses, clinics, courthouses, places of worship or shopping Malls.
NEW MEXICO EDUCATION SECRETARY ANNOUNCES PUBLIC SCHOOL CLOSURES FOR 3 WEEKS, LIKELY WILL CLOSE UNTIL END OF SCHOOL YEAR
Late March 12, Cabinet Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announce that all New Mexico public schools will be closed and classes canceled, starting Monday, March 16, for three weeks and ending April 6. On March 23, the Governor said it is likely all public schools will remain closed until the end of the school term.
Education Secretary Ryan Stewart had this to say about the school closures:
“This is a proactive measure to limit the potential community spread of COVID-19. …We have seen other states take this measure after they have experienced community spread of this virus. New Mexico is going to be proactive and do everything we can to prevent the potential spread of the virus. I have been in communication with all of our superintendents about this proactive step, and we are all going to work together to address this public health challenge.”
ARCHBISHOP ANNOUNCES CATHOLIC CHURCH AND SCHOOL CLOSURES
On Thursday, March 12, Archbishop John C. Wester announced on Thursday, March 12, that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is canceling its church services and closing its schools until further notice, effective immediately, following the lead of state officials who have ordered the closure of all New Mexico K-12 public schools for three weeks. The measures were taken to prevent community spread of COVID-19. The Archbishop had this to say about his decision:
“The church is very much pro-life and we see this as very much a pro-life issue. … We are concerned about the health of our parishioners, particularly those who are elderly, and people with underlying and chronic health conditions.”
TRUMP DECLARES NATIONAL EMERGENCY
On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to freeing up to $50 billion in federal resources to combat coronavirus. The announcement was part of a new measures Trump hopes can bring a roiling health crisis under control after a week of market seesaws and major disruptions to everyday life.
STATE ORDERS MORE HEALTH RESTRICTIONS
On Sunday, March 15, Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel, announce an amended public health order with restrictions that apply to all restaurants, bars, breweries, eateries and other food establishments. Under the public heath order, restaurants and bars are being ordered to operate at no greater than 50% occupancy, with no more than 50% of seating capacity. The order also prohibits the establishments from seating more than 6 people at tables and booths, and it mandates that all occupied tables and booths be separated by at least 6 feet. Patrons will no longer be allowed to be seated at bars, and they can’t be served if they’re standing.
In a news release announcing the new rules Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said:
“The best thing New Mexicans can do right now is self-isolate and limit person-to-person contact. … We all have to pull together in this effort. Keep washing your hands with soap and water regularly. Stay at home.”
OTHER STATE CLOSURES
Beginning March 15, all state museums, historic sites, parks and cultural institutions were closed until further notice. Government offices that provide direct services, including the Motor Vehicles Division, will begin limiting staff and shifting toward a remote-service model. All other state buildings and leased state offices will be closed to the public.
CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE
The city of Albuquerque announced March 15, that it would continue essential services while maximizing distance between employees. It has also announced that all BioPark facilities will be closed through April 15.
According to a news release, all employees who can will be allowed to “teleworking” to work from home. Non-essential employees who cannot telework will be sent home. Essential employees who can work in the field will be asked to do so exclusively. Workers who cannot come into work because of these policies will receive paid leave. The City also announced that the Westside Emergency Housing Center will be kept open 24-hours a day until further notice with the city screening and testing people who are using the shelter.
GLOBAL OIL PRICE WAR
On March 17 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. the rate of petroleum consumption was dropping by about 8 million barrels a day, or about 8% of global demand. The Russia and OPEC price war has sent Brent crude, the global benchmark, below $30 a barrel and prompted energy companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. to plan for big spending cuts. Russia and OPEC are boosting their exports just as global oil demand suffers an historic contraction due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the price war showing no sign of abating and demand falling, Wall Street is slashing its oil forecasts. Goldman is now predicting that the average will be $20 a barrel during the second quarter. Oil traders privately say the benchmark could even drop into the single digits to force some producers to shut down their wells. That’s something that hasn’t happened since the industry downturn of 1997 to 1999.
MAYOR TIM KELLER ANNOUNCES STATE OF EMERGENCY
On Wednesday, March 18, less than 48 hours after the Albuquerque City Council passed the amended “Emergency Powers Ordinance”, Mayor Tim Keller declared a Public Health Emergency to deal with the corona virus in the city. The Mayor announced and signed the declaration on a video posted on social media and distributed to the local new outlets. In the video announcement, Keller said the declaration “frees up financial resources for our city and flexibility so we can deal with this situation the best way possible.”
The emergency declaration allows the Keller administration to allocate city staff as necessary to address the current COVID-19 pandemic. It will also allow for the city to make “emergency procurements” to protect the health and safety of citizens and property. It also serves as a request for state and federal assistance.
The Mayor’s “Declaration of Local State of Emergency” makes 2 specific requests for financial assistance from the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and state agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
POSSIBILITY OF A “VIRTUAL” SPECIAL SESSION
On March 19, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to the NM legislative leaders telling them that she will convene a special session to deal with the imploding oil prices that has caused a budget crisis for the state. The question is when and how? Before such a special session is called, and update on the States revenue estimates and the extent federal emergency assistance must he determined. The special session is likely to be called in mid-June, will likely be only one or two days in length an will be done with by “virtual reality” telecommunications.
On March 23, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said that his staff is conducting research into the possibility of conducting the special session meeting through an online program that allows for seminars over the web. The feasibility of a virtual session with ALL 117 members of the legislature connecting online to cast their votes and debate bills.
STAY AT HOME ORDER
On Monday, March 23, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the closure of all “non-essential” businesses statewide and delivered the message to state residents to stay home and only go out when absolutely necessary by saying:
“If we limit person to person contact, we will be doing everything in our power to slow the spread. … I need you to heed this order. I need every New Mexican to do their part. Everyone in this state has a social contract for responsibility for one another. … If you don’t take this [seriously], then we can’t reduce the spread of COVID-19. … We don’t take these orders lightly. … I have to prevent as many deaths as possible from this unfair, vicious virus.”
The “stay at home” order is no different than the “shelter in place” orders implemented by the governors of California, New York and several other states. The new order also expands an existing ban on large public gatherings, directing that such gatherings be limited to no more than five people, even family outings. The limit had previously been set at no more than 100 people, and more recently at no more than 10.
According to the Governor, statewide the virus has infected 83 people and hospitalized nine of them statewide, though only five of those individuals remain in the hospital. Testing for the virus has increased significantly and New Mexico is now running roughly 850 coronavirus tests per day. Confirmed cases have now been reported in 11 of the state’s 33 counties.
Department of Health Deputy Epidemiologist Chad Smelser said community spread has been detected in both Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties which means meaning the disease has been transmitted from individual to individual within those counties.
The governor said things will get worse in the coming weeks and said it is highly likely that schools will remain closed beyond April 6, when the initial closure was set to expire.
For a list of “essential businesses” that will remain open see postscript to this blog article.
MASSIVE FEDERAL AIDE PACKAGE
As of Tuesday, March 25, the United States congress is attempting to enact a $2.5 trillion dollar emergency aid package that will include $1, 200 in direct payments to the American people now out of work. The massive aid package is a far-reaching effort to prop up the U.S. economy, help American households and bolster the health care system amid the growing crisis.
Even though Trump’s administration recommended Americans curtail activities starting a week ago, the president said:
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go. Let’s go to work. … This country was not built to be shut down. This is not a county that was built for this.”
Trump added that he may soon allow parts of the nation’s economy, in regions less badly hit by the virus, to begin reopening, contradicting the advice of medical and public health experts across the country, if not the globe, to quarantine even more.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sharply criticized Trump’s idea of allow business to open and his fluctuating response to the crisis by saying:
“He’s a notion-monger, just tossing out things that have no relationship to a well-coordinated, science-based, government-wide response to this. … Thank God for the governors who are taking the lead in their state. Thank God for some of the people in the administration who speak truth to power.”
On Tuesday March 24, bowing to pressure from countries pulling out of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced a first-of-its-kind postponement of the Summer Olympics. The said the Tokyo Games “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND FAMILY
Older adults and those with chronic illnesses are most at risk to contract the virus that could result in death from complications.
Even healthy young people not worried about getting sick should take steps to protect themselves and others.
The strategy must be to limit the chance of transmitting the disease to persons who are more vulnerable.
Government officials urged people to protect themselves by:
Washing their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Cleaning “high-touch” surfaces daily with regular household cleaners
When coughing, use a tissue or cough into the forearm of your elbow
Avoiding the sharing of personal household items
Stay home when sick
Avoid large crowds and public events
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in New Mexico as the state works to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The Governor’s office posted a lengthy list of business types that are essential and that will remain open:
HEALTHCARE / PUBLIC HEALTH
• Walk-in-care health facilities
• Emergency veterinary and livestock services
• Medical and wholesale and distribution
• Home health care workers or aides for the elderly
• Emergency dental facilities
• Nursing homes
• Residential health care facilities
• Research facilities
• Congregate care facilities
• Intermediate care facilities for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities
• Supportive living homes
• Home health care providers
• Medical supplies and equipment manufacturers and providers
• Medical cannabis
• Law enforcement personnel
• First Responders
• Emergency management personnel
• Dispatch operators
• Court personnel
• Facilities necessary to provide services to those workers employed by essential businesses and essential non-profit entities.
• Homeless shelters
• Food banks
• Other services providing care to indigent or needy populations
• Public works construction
• Commercial and residential construction and maintenance
• Utilities, including their contractors and suppliers, involved in water and waste-water supply
• Sewer, trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal
• Road and highway repair and construction
• Solid waste collection and removal
• Nuclear material research and enrichment
• Data and internet providers
• Data centers
• Telecommunications systems
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
• Farms, ranches and other food cultivation, processing or packaging operations
• Grocery stores and supermarkets
• All food and beverage stores
• Food banks
• Farmers’ markets
• Vendors who sell food
• Convenience stores
• Other businesses that generate most of their revenue from the sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet food, fresh meats, fish and poultry, and any other household consumer products
• Businesses that store, ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences or retailers
• Restaurants, but only for delivery or carryout
• Gas and oil drilling and refining
• Electrical production and distribution
• Natural resources extraction or mining operations
• Utilities, including their contractors and suppliers, engaged in power generation, fuel supply and transmission
• Food processing
• Sanitary products
• Household paper products
• Primary metals
• Electrical equipment
• Transportation equipment
• Defense and national security-related operations supporting the U.S. government or a U.S. government contractor
• Airport operations
• Taxis and other private transportation providers
• Gas stations
• Automobile repair facilities
• Retailers who generate most of their revenue from the sale of automobile repair products
• Security services
• Custodial services
• Other skilled trades necessary to maintaining the safety and sanitation of residences
• Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes
• Legal services as necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
• Accounting services as necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
• Credit unions
• Insurance providers
• Payroll services
• Brokerage services
• Investment management firms
• Newspaper operations
• Essential manufacturing
• Laboratories and defense and national security-related operations supporting the U.S. government or a contractor to the U.S. government
• Hardware stores, nurseries and businesses that generate most of their revenue from the sale of home-improvement goods
• Laundromats and dry cleaner services
• Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries
• Real estate services including brokers, title companies and related services