Corona Insanity in New Mexico

Recently, I was hiking with four friends in the Sandia Mountains, just east of Albuquerque.  I didn't think about it at the time, but because there were five of us, technically, we were a "mass gathering" under one of New Mexico's many Wuhan virus public health orders.  Had the hike taken place on state or private land, we could have been subject to a whopping fine of $5,000 each.  Fortunately, the hike took place on federal land, so the state public health order did not apply.

How did N.M. arrive at a point where hikers in the woods could be subject to a $5,000 fine if there were five or more of them on non-federal land?

The Wuhan virus crazy season officially began in N.M. on March 11, 2020, when its diminutive governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham (MLG), signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency.  As New Mexicans would soon discover, in 2003, its Democrat-controlled state Legislature and its Democrat governor, Bill Richardson, had created a surprise for their residents.  That surprise came in the form of a statute (NMSA 12-10A-5) that provided that the governor, and the governor alone, has the power to declare a public health emergency and to keep that public health emergency order in effect as long as he wants.  There is no provision for judicial or legislative review.  The only limitation on the governor's power is the requirement that he has to confer with his appointed secretary of health prior to issuing the order and that the order expires after 30 days if not renewed.  There is no limitation on the number of times the order may be renewed.  Violation of an order relating to the declared public emergency calls for a punitive civil penalty of $5,000.

To say that MLG and her appointed Health Department secretary, Kathyleen Kunkel (K.K.), have been aggressive and enthusiastic in their attempt to micromanage nearly every aspect of life in the state would be an understatement.  Between March 13 and July 13, they have bombarded the state with eighteen public health orders and thirty-one executive orders regarding how the state is to be run to combat the Wuhan virus.  As of July 7, only four states had more Wuhan virus restrictions than N.M.

When one examines these orders, one discovers much illogic and inconsistency.  Liquor stores were shut down, but one could still buy alcohol at grocery stores.  All greenhouses in Albuquerque were shut down during the spring planting season except for curbside pick-up.  The problem is that you were not permitted to go inside the greenhouse to see the inventory to determine what you wanted to order.  Yet one greenhouse in the Albuquerque suburb of Alameda was permitted to stay open.  Why is anyone's guess.  One day, a "public gathering" was one hundred people, but a few days later, it was ten.  There has been an ever changing and shifting sand aspect to the orders.  To give outsiders a sense of what we have been through, notice how the definition of "mass gathering" has changed in the public health orders:

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together one hundred (100) or more individuals in a single room or connected space in close proximity to one another, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theaters, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space, but does not include normal operations at airports, or other spaces where 100 or more individuals may be in transit. "Mass gathering" also does not include family gatherings such as weddings or funerals, shelters, retail stores or grocery stores, typical office environments, courthouses, correctional and detention facilities, schools and educational institutions, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other health care and congregate care facilities, and places of Worship operating during "normal business hours[.]" (3/16)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together ten (10) or more individuals in a single room or connected space but does not include a typical business environment and does not include the presence of ten (10) or more individuals in a residence where those individuals regularly reside. (3/19)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering" does not include "individuals" congregated in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship (3/23)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering' does not include individuals congregated in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. "Mass gathering" does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment. (4/6)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering" does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment. (4/11)

As as a result of N.M.'s tough shutdown policies, do we have some of the lowest Wuhan death rates in the country?  Absolutely not. As of July 16, using the critical deaths per million statistic, N.M. is 268 per million.  Of the five states that border N.M., Arizona and Colorado have higher rates, but Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah have per million rates less than half of N.M's.  And what of no-shutdown South Dakota, which, like N.M., has a largely rural population and a significant American Indian population?  One hundred thirty deaths per million.

How have MLG and K.K. done in protecting N.M.'s most vulnerable from the Wuhan virus?  A fiasco.  Forty percent of all deaths have occurred in nursing homes, and 60% have been American Indians, who make up only 10% of the population.  Sixty-nine percent of all deaths have occurred in just three counties in the northwestern part of the state, which has 10.6% of the total state population.

MLG and K.K. should have focused on protecting those most likely to die from the Wuhan virus if infected and letting everyone else establish herd immunity.  They did not.  Instead, they have attempted to limit infections to the entire population, thereby prolonging the agony.  They have ignored CDC data showing that Wuhan virus daily deaths have fallen by over 90% since their April peak (age & sex/table #1/covid 19 deaths) and how deaths for people under 55 are significantly lower than for the yearly flu (race and Hispanic origin/table 2b/distribution of death by age).

What's next for N.M. regarding the Wuhan virus and the state's response?  It's not good.  Schools and universities have been shut down since the spring, and it's uncertain when they will re-open.  Small private businesses, especially restaurants, have been killed.  Tax revenues may be down as much as 30%, and there is no end in sight.  Tough times in the blue-state "Land of Enchantment."

Image: Ron Cogswell via Flickr (cropped).

Recently, I was hiking with four friends in the Sandia Mountains, just east of Albuquerque.  I didn't think about it at the time, but because there were five of us, technically, we were a "mass gathering" under one of New Mexico's many Wuhan virus public health orders.  Had the hike taken place on state or private land, we could have been subject to a whopping fine of $5,000 each.  Fortunately, the hike took place on federal land, so the state public health order did not apply.

How did N.M. arrive at a point where hikers in the woods could be subject to a $5,000 fine if there were five or more of them on non-federal land?

The Wuhan virus crazy season officially began in N.M. on March 11, 2020, when its diminutive governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham (MLG), signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency.  As New Mexicans would soon discover, in 2003, its Democrat-controlled state Legislature and its Democrat governor, Bill Richardson, had created a surprise for their residents.  That surprise came in the form of a statute (NMSA 12-10A-5) that provided that the governor, and the governor alone, has the power to declare a public health emergency and to keep that public health emergency order in effect as long as he wants.  There is no provision for judicial or legislative review.  The only limitation on the governor's power is the requirement that he has to confer with his appointed secretary of health prior to issuing the order and that the order expires after 30 days if not renewed.  There is no limitation on the number of times the order may be renewed.  Violation of an order relating to the declared public emergency calls for a punitive civil penalty of $5,000.

To say that MLG and her appointed Health Department secretary, Kathyleen Kunkel (K.K.), have been aggressive and enthusiastic in their attempt to micromanage nearly every aspect of life in the state would be an understatement.  Between March 13 and July 13, they have bombarded the state with eighteen public health orders and thirty-one executive orders regarding how the state is to be run to combat the Wuhan virus.  As of July 7, only four states had more Wuhan virus restrictions than N.M.

When one examines these orders, one discovers much illogic and inconsistency.  Liquor stores were shut down, but one could still buy alcohol at grocery stores.  All greenhouses in Albuquerque were shut down during the spring planting season except for curbside pick-up.  The problem is that you were not permitted to go inside the greenhouse to see the inventory to determine what you wanted to order.  Yet one greenhouse in the Albuquerque suburb of Alameda was permitted to stay open.  Why is anyone's guess.  One day, a "public gathering" was one hundred people, but a few days later, it was ten.  There has been an ever changing and shifting sand aspect to the orders.  To give outsiders a sense of what we have been through, notice how the definition of "mass gathering" has changed in the public health orders:

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together one hundred (100) or more individuals in a single room or connected space in close proximity to one another, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theaters, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space, but does not include normal operations at airports, or other spaces where 100 or more individuals may be in transit. "Mass gathering" also does not include family gatherings such as weddings or funerals, shelters, retail stores or grocery stores, typical office environments, courthouses, correctional and detention facilities, schools and educational institutions, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other health care and congregate care facilities, and places of Worship operating during "normal business hours[.]" (3/16)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together ten (10) or more individuals in a single room or connected space but does not include a typical business environment and does not include the presence of ten (10) or more individuals in a residence where those individuals regularly reside. (3/19)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering" does not include "individuals" congregated in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship (3/23)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering' does not include individuals congregated in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. "Mass gathering" does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment. (4/6)

"Mass gathering" means any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside. "Mass gathering" does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment. (4/11)

As as a result of N.M.'s tough shutdown policies, do we have some of the lowest Wuhan death rates in the country?  Absolutely not. As of July 16, using the critical deaths per million statistic, N.M. is 268 per million.  Of the five states that border N.M., Arizona and Colorado have higher rates, but Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah have per million rates less than half of N.M's.  And what of no-shutdown South Dakota, which, like N.M., has a largely rural population and a significant American Indian population?  One hundred thirty deaths per million.

How have MLG and K.K. done in protecting N.M.'s most vulnerable from the Wuhan virus?  A fiasco.  Forty percent of all deaths have occurred in nursing homes, and 60% have been American Indians, who make up only 10% of the population.  Sixty-nine percent of all deaths have occurred in just three counties in the northwestern part of the state, which has 10.6% of the total state population.

MLG and K.K. should have focused on protecting those most likely to die from the Wuhan virus if infected and letting everyone else establish herd immunity.  They did not.  Instead, they have attempted to limit infections to the entire population, thereby prolonging the agony.  They have ignored CDC data showing that Wuhan virus daily deaths have fallen by over 90% since their April peak (age & sex/table #1/covid 19 deaths) and how deaths for people under 55 are significantly lower than for the yearly flu (race and Hispanic origin/table 2b/distribution of death by age).

What's next for N.M. regarding the Wuhan virus and the state's response?  It's not good.  Schools and universities have been shut down since the spring, and it's uncertain when they will re-open.  Small private businesses, especially restaurants, have been killed.  Tax revenues may be down as much as 30%, and there is no end in sight.  Tough times in the blue-state "Land of Enchantment."

Image: Ron Cogswell via Flickr (cropped).