New Mexico prepares for more cases, extended school closures
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The largest municipal jail in New Mexico is releasing some inmates who are considered vulnerable to the new coronavirus, authorities announced Thursday.
Officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque identified several dozen inmates who meet federal health guidelines for medical risk when it comes to COVID-19. Of those, 46 will remain in custody because they are facing violent charges and are considered ineligible for release.
“We have already vacated two living area pods to use for quarantine, and we also have four negative pressure rooms to use for quarantine, so there is no need to release inmates charged with violent crimes,” detention center Chief Ralph Fernandez said in a statement.
Other inmates are being transferred into community custody programs as the district attorney's office and public defenders work with the jail and local judges to bring down the lockup's overall population.
No inmates or jail staff have tested positive.
In order to further reduce the jail's population, detention center officials are compiling a separate list of non-violent misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenders who are not vulnerable to COVID-19 who could be released in the near future. Any inmate released, whether on the community custody program or early release, will have to first go before a judge who will set the conditions of release.
Beginning next week, jail officials said all court proceedings involving inmates will be held by video only.
Statewide, at least 136 people have tested positive for the virus. Health officials on Wednesday confirmed the state's first COVID-19 related death.
The state Public Education Department also says an announcement regarding an extension to the school closure period is expected Friday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham first announced the school closure March 13, saying it would be in effect at least through April 3 and possibly longer, depending on conditions.
The governor on Thursday also formally requested that the U.S. Defense Department establish a staffed 248-bed U.S. Army combat support hospital in Albuquerque as a proactive measure to boost the state’s treatment capacity.
In Santa Fe County, the public defender's office closed Tuesday after one of its attorneys tested positive for the virus. The Santa Fe County jail already had stopped in-person visits, and the district court had switched to holding proceedings by phone.
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily stayed eviction orders for residents around the state who prove they are unable to pay rent on a mobile home lot because of the coronavirus pandemic. The action offers the same protections against the loss of housing during the COVID-19 public health emergency that the high court provided Tuesday to tenants of apartments and other places of residence.