Alibi V.29 No.13 • March 26-April 1, 2020

On Assignment

On the Front Lines

In Burque with the other humans

Cottonwood Mall
Eric Williams Photography

It’s springtime in New Mexico and our news reporter is up early on Monday, just after the sun rises at 7:05am, to check in on the latest developments in the war against COVID-19.

There are 10 messages awaiting him on Facebook Messenger, seven voicemails waiting to be heard and 50 more emails in his personal account when he finally fell asleep at 1am. He doesn’t even want to check his work email but does and is surprised to find some hopeful news there.

Then he drinks a hot cuppa joe, grabs a couple pairs of surgical gloves and a protective face mask and goes out to his car ... where he sprays the front seat interior down with Lysol and wipes it away before fully entering.

He is going to check out reports of closures that cannot be independently confirmed.

Supermarket

One email from a Weekly Alibi reader told about possible closures or long waits at a large grocery store in the southeast quadrant of town. Upon arriving, he notices that there isn’t even a line to get into Ghetto Smith’s, just a friendly clerk waiting at the entrance.

The reporter parks and walks toward the store’s front door, stopping 10 feet in front of the attendant, who looks tired but also enobled by her place on the front lines of this battle going on across America. She tells him, “It’s actually kind of normal here today. There was a small line this morning, but everything was orderly.” From a distance, looking in, it seems this supermarket remains well stocked.

Our reporter flashes that attendant the peace sign and zooms off toward Nob Hill.

The Bank

At first, the drive up Coal Avenue is notable for all the trees blossoming along its edges as one approaches the edge of the university district. Today, the drive is also notable because our reporter is the only one driving this stretch of road on what would normally be a super-busy day in Burque.

Another reader had called our reporter at 8am that morning to tell him that she just got off the phone with her bank and thought it would soon be closed because of an imminent “stay at home order” to be announced in Albuquerque on Monday.

The bank in question, US Bank, was open for drive-thru business on Monday morning, and there were no lines. Our reporter spoke to the teller, a young man wearing pale blue gloves, and asked what he thought might happen. The teller replied, “We’re expecting a stay-home order sometime soon. But banks like this one will continue to be open in a drive-thru capacity. Right now, we’re open from 9:30am until 4pm, Monday through Saturday.”

Balloon Fiesta

With that, our reporter zoomed off to a live press briefing that Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller was slated to give at Balloon Fiesta Park at 11:30am. The ride out to the north side of town was strangely quiet, the freeways uncrowded; occassionally, an 18-wheeler sped by.

At the press conference, only a few other reporters have gathered. It’s clear that the mayor and his company want some distance, which is fine with the small group of people gathered. They are standing awkwardly about 7 feet apart from one another.

Keller spends a few minutes talking about visiting the city parks near one’s home and how important it is to stay close to home. He also makes a clear distinction between the terms “shelter in place” and “stay home order.” He says to be ready for the unexpected, but his tone is optimistic. Even as he reminds those in attendance and streaming the briefing online, in the myth-buster segment of the presser, that warmer weather may not be a solution to the outbreak, as some have claimed, asking citizens to listen to our scientists and leaders.

Home Again

After the press conference, our reporter returned to his home and took a phone call from local health care worker Eva Vasquez.

Vasquez said, “I work at a nonprofit organization called East Central Ministries, located basically on Wyoming and Central. I am a Case Manager / Certified Community Health Worker. My clients include many homeless and sex workers. I spent many hours this last week in alleys and other [similar] spaces [where] I knew I’d find groups of people. I am trying to explain the virus to them.”

Vasquez says she’s concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the way it may impact our city’s fragile homeless citizens because, in her opinion, “APD is still making them tear down their spaces which they make from cardboard and tarps. Cops give them five to 15 minutes to pack up and move on. They aren’t able to self-isolate if they wanted to; if Albuquerque will be made to isolate at home, where will [the homeless] go?”

The Elderly

While on the phone with Vasquez, our reporter receives a message from Margie McCurry. McCurry, a Ph.D who retired in Albuquerque, is a former Albuquerque Tribune staffer. She is 85 years old. Here is what she knows so far about the COVID-19 outbreak in Albuquerque.

“I'm extremely impressed how The Montebello on Academy retirement community staff here in Albuquerque has quickly stepped into quarantine mode. All 150-plus of us [elders] are ‘sheltering in place’ in our individual apartments. Our beautiful dining room is closed, but the waiters are delivering the delicious meals to our individual apartments.”

Asked about protective matters, the retired journalist and current PR maven told Weekly Alibi that, “Everyone entering our lobby is stopped at the front doors (residents included), temperatures are taken and each [is] questioned regarding travel and possible exposure.”

Despite these restrictions and the possibility of a formal order calling for a “stay at home” message to come from the governor later on Monday afternoon, McCurry seems positive and believes that strict social distancing may help an already dire situation from advancing as it has in Italy and Spain.

In the Neighborhood

Before talking to a local nurse on the phone, our Alibi reporter takes a walk through the country club section of Albuquerque. It’s well after lunch and more than a few citizens are strolling through the neighborhood.

At a home construction site, he runs into a group of workers laying the concrete driveway for a new home. They call out greetings to him in Spanish. Our reporter asks the men how they are faring, and one of them steps a bit forward and while still maintaining a distance of about 10 feet, began by telling August March, “No tengas miedo, amigo.”

“Don’t be afraid, my friend,” the construction foreman, whose name is Firpo Gonzales, tells him. The man then lifts his hat, smiles and points to the sun.

Otherwise, everyone our reporter meets is distant and quiet. The family of four walking their dogs, the couple dressed in fluorescent green windbreakers, the two teens with bright-blue hair and skateboards all wave and smile, but don’t talk or come any nearer.

The Nurse

Our reporter returns home after walking for 30 minutes. Now it is early afternoon on Monday, March 23, 2020. He dials the number of a nurse he knows. They work at one of this area’s major hospitals.

After a ponderous silence, they finally speak in hushed tones before blurting out, “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to tell people my name. I’m scared. I’m scared for my family. I’ve been putting in 18-hour days now for an entire week.”

After assuring them that I would protect their identity, their voice seemed to relax and they continued: “I do know one thing. It’s so important that people don’t panic. So many of us are already panicking, and that is the thing that is going to make things worse. Look, August, don’t come to the hospital—tell your friends not to come here to the [emergency room] unless they really need to come. If you are symptomatic, please have someone help you contact the New Mexico Department of Health.”

When asked about other advice for citizens involuntarily drafted into this fight— which, by the way, means all of us—they are firm but clear, stating, “Please stay at home. We are here, and we are ready if you need us.”

Stay at Home

Then, at 3pm on Monday afternoon, the governor spoke. Here is what she said. As of Monday, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told the state, there were 83 COVID-19 cases.

She also clarified the Department of Health’s emergency public health order. It is an instruction to stay home, she said. Residents of the state of New Mexico, unless they are involved in essential business, must stay home. Gatherings larger than five people are also prohibited. “If you don’t take this seriously, we can’t reduce the effects of COVID-19,” the governor said, calmly and firmly.

“The goal is to make sure, as we see more cases—and we have community spread—is to limit that spread. You owe it to your neighbors, your friends and your community,” she reminded New Mexicans. “I need New Mexicans to heed this [order]. ... I need New Mexicans to do their part,” Lujan Grisham concluded.

Tuesday Afternoon

Just before finishing up the paper and sending it off to the printer, our newsroom notes the following developments in the ongoing war against COVID-19.

At Tuesday’s press briefing, Mayor Tim Keller announced that city hospitals would no longer allow visitors. Further, all public buildings, including city hall, are now closed. Additionally, golf courses and Headstart Pre-K programs have also been closed. Finally, starting this weekend, city buses will begin running on a Saturday schedule every day. On Saturday, March 28, ART service will be stopped until further notice.

• The local daily reports that the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order today halting evictions of those tenants who face such a circumstance because of inability to pay rent.

• KOB-TV reports that Sandoval County is no longer seeking to release nonviolent inmates from its detention facility in Bernalillo, N.M.