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TUES: State Expands COVID-19 Testing, Trump Says He’ll OK ABQ Army Field Hospital, + More

New York National Guard
Creative Commons
Army National Guard Soldiers setup a FEMA Field Hospital at the Javits Center in New York City on March 25, 2020

Governor Says Man In 40s Becomes 5th Virus Death In New Mexico - By Morgan Lee and Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has increased to five, with the case of a man in his 40s.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the latest fatality Tuesday. She said the number of cases in the state has increased to at least 315. About two dozen people remain hospitalized.

State health officials said ​the Bernalillo County man who died was found unresponsive at home last week. He had an underlying medical condition.

Social distancing continues to be an important tool to keep more people from contracting the virus but relaxing the parameters regarding who gets tested will help, Lujan Grisham said.

The governor said social distancing continues to be an important tool to keep more people from contracting the virus. She also said the federal government has granted the state's request for a U.S. Army field hospital to be set up.

The state already has issued a stay-at-home order, schools are shuttered and numerous businesses have been forced to close as a result of a series of public health mandates.

However, the governor said she's still seeing images of packed big box stores and people congregating while shopping.

She warned that the restrictions will be in place at least through the end of April, possibly longer.

State Expands Testing As COVID-19 Cases Rise To 315 - KUNM

State officials are expanding who can qualify for a COVID-19 test as the number of cases rose to 315 on Tuesday.

Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham said a fifth person had died from the coronavirus, a man in his 40s.

Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said the expanded testing will include people who not show symptoms but have had close contacts or household members who tested positive.

Kunkel said the department will recommend asymptomatic people in nursing homes be tested and that anyone with fever and shortness of breath should be tested as well.

The secretary said there are now over 60 testing sites in New Mexico and 45 of those sites in 24 counties were open. 

DOH also removed any requirement for a referral to get a test. Kunkel said some private hospitals may still require them, but people can call local public health offices and request an appointment.

Lujan Grisham said it is likely orders to keep non-essential businesses closed and remain at home will likely be extended.

Albuquerque Police Say Man Fatally Shot During Welfare CheckAssociated Press

A man accused of beating his neighbor with a hammer and threatening to kill him just weeks ago is dead after being shot by Albuquerque police.

Authorities say the shooting occurred at a home Monday after officers attempted to make a welfare check on 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Busttillos. Police were contacted by his concerned employer, who had not heard from him in several days.

Officers discovered Acosta-Busttillos had a warrant for a violent felony related to the incident with his neighbor and attempted to arrest him. Authorities say officers tried less-lethal force but that's didn't work.

At least one officer fired his weapon, striking the Acost-Busttillos, who later died at a hospital.

Those Without Broadband Struggle In A Stuck-At-Home Nation - By Tali Arbel and Michael Casey, Associated Press

The shutdowns of schools, workplaces and public institutions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problems of the millions of people in the U.S. who can't easily get online.

While more people have been connected in recent years, tens of millions still lack access to high-speed internet because phone and cable companies hesitate to invest in far-flung rural areas.

The digital divide disproportionately affects rural areas, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans on tribal lands.

On Navajo Nation, the country's largest Native American reservation, it's common to see people sitting in their vehicles at night outside local government centers, fast-food restaurants and grocery stores to connect to Wi-Fi. Diné College is lending laptops to students and asking internet providers to improve service.

Teachers and students worry about how they will keep up with schoolwork without reliable home internet. Small-business owners are at a loss. Local politicians are concerned about losing touch with their constituents.

Many more Americans simply can't afford it. According to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission report U.S. broadband costs more than in many comparable countries — an average of $58 a month compared to $46.55 across 29 nations.

Santa Fe Food Bank Gets Donation From 'Stranger Things' StarAssociated Press

"Stranger Things" star Millie Bobby Brown is channeling her power for good for a New Mexico food bank.

The actress posted on her Instagram on Sunday that she and her family have given an undisclosed amount to The Food Depot in Santa Fe to fund 20,000 meals.

Brown, who plays telekinetic teen Eleven, said in her post "Stranger Things" was set to film in Santa Fe before the coronavirus pandemic shut down production.

The Food Depot confirmed the actress' donation Monday. Officials say her contribution will mean several families struggling because of COVID-19 will have groceries. 

Plans For Navajo Medicaid Entity Stall In Leadership DisputeAssociated Press

Plans for a Navajo Nation entity to manage Medicaid on parts of the reservation are up in the air over disagreements among tribal leaders.

A tribal corporation has been touting a plan that would incorporate traditional healing, food boxes and customer service in the Navajo language.

But it hit another snag last week when tribal President Jonathan Nez vetoed a resolution that he says unconscionably tried to capitalize on the spread of the coronavirus.

Nez says the resolution wasn't an emergency as written and the corporation wasn't set up to manage health care. Tribal lawmakers had approved the corporation's efforts to administer Medicaid on the New Mexico portion of the reservation. 

Trump Says He’ll OK Army Field Hospital As New Mexico Coronavirus Cases Rise To 281 - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials confirmed the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rose by 44 Monday to 281. There were also two additional deaths, bringing the total to four. The latest fatalities were in Bernalillo County, a woman in her 90s and a woman in her 70s. Each had an underlying medical condition.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported President Trump will grant a U.S. Army field hospital to be placed in Albuquerque. Lujan Grisham had inquired about her standing request for the support hospital to preemptively boost treatment capacity for coronavirus patients on a Monday conference call with the President and other state governors.

Jail Inmate In Albuquerque Tests Positive For COVID-19 Associated Press

New Mexico's largest metropolitan jail reported Monday that an inmate has tested positive for the coronavirus and that jail workers who came into proximity with the inmate were isolating themselves at home.

Bernalillo County officials who oversee the Metropolitan Detention Center say the infected inmate was placed in isolation and is receiving medical treatment.

Officials say the 39-year old male inmate was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center on Thursday and did not have COVID-19 symptoms at that time.

Two days after arriving at the jail, officials were informed that the inmate’s mother was hospitalized and tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The inmate had been caring for his mother before being jailed.

State officials announced Monday the number of COVID-19 cases had risen by 44 to 281. 

New Mexico Election Regulators Want Mail-In-Only Primary - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Local elections officials petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for permission to conduct the June 2 primary elections by mail because of the coronavirus.

County clerks said in the petition Monday that the pandemic makes it impossible to conduct traditional election-day balloting and that existing procedures for mail-in balloting should be adopted for all voting with limited in-person assistance.

They also say it is impractical for the Legislature to quickly meet and establish emergency voting procedures.

The Supreme Court had no immediate response.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the state increased to 281 cases on Monday. 

Governor Seeks Resources For Navajo Nation As Cases There Rise To 125Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pressed President Donald Trump on Monday during a conference call with other state governors to ensure adequate resources to the Navajo Nation where confirmed coronavirus infections have surpassed 125.

The new federal economic rescue package included $10 billion for tribes, including $1 billion for the Indian Health Service that provides primary medical care to more than two million Native Americans.

New Mexico Official In Video Blames 'Asians' For Virus - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A southern New Mexico county official is under fire for posting a social media video casting blame for the novel coronavirus pandemic on "Asians." 

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Luna County Safety and Risk Coordinator Tyler Massey posted an expletive-laden video on Snapchat earlier this month, where he complained about people of Asian descent buying "in bulk" at a Walmart. 

He says their "cousins" started the pandemic and then alleged the Asian customers in the parking lot left him "exposed" to COVID-19. 

Luna County Attorney Charles Kretek verified that Massey remained a county employee and said county manager Chris Brice "addressed the matter internally."

Massey did not respond to phone and email messages.

Massey had served as Hidalgo County's chief deputy assessor before being elected county treasurer in 2012. He was reelected in 2016. He later resigned to take the Luna County job.

State Ethics Commission Considers Merits Of Four Complaints - Associated Press

New Mexico's newly founded State Ethic Commission plans to meet by online video conference later this week to review the first four complaints it has received. 

The complaints will be reviewed by the seven-member panel Friday in an executive session without public access to deliberations. 

The commission treats complaints as confidential until there is a probable-cause finding, including determinations about jurisdiction or dismissals. That doesn't prevent people from going public with accusations or rebuttals. 

Voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the commission in 2018 in the wake of a series of high profile corruption scandals. It began fielding complaints this year.

Groups Say More Time Needed To Weigh New Mexico Drilling Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Archaeologists, historians and environmentalists are joining New Mexico's congressional delegation and a coalition of Native American tribes in asking federal land managers to grant more time for the public to comment on a contested plan that will guide oil and gas development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

They say the federal government should wait until the coronavirus outbreak subsides to ensure the public has an adequate opportunity to participate.

Despite existing protections within its boundaries, the World Heritage site has been at the center of a decades-long fight over drilling in northwestern New Mexico.

The National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other groups issued their plea Friday, noting that many tribal communities vested in the outcome lack reliable internet service and that virtual meetings would be impossible for many.

Making a final decision on the proposed resource management plan without adequate public engagement would be a violation of federal laws and guidelines, they said.

The groups are asking that the comment period be extended by at least 120 days. New Mexico's congressional delegation says that would also allow more time for tribes to craft an ethnographic study for the federal government to consider.

It was not immediately clear if federal officials would consider granting an extension.

New Mexico To Tap Satellite Tracking During Wildfire Season - Associated Press

This season New Mexico has a new tool that could help crews get an early jump on any wildfires that might break out. 

The State Forestry Division will be getting real-time alerts via a satellite tracking system designed by the Santa Fe-based startup Descartes Labs. 

The program can detect temperature increases from new fires using data that's updated every few minutes. Text messages will then be sent to State Forestry with the location and a detailed map. 

While the agency is faced with unusual circumstances this fire season, officials say they're still prepared with hundreds of firefighters at the ready across New Mexico.

Hobbs News-Sun To End Saturday Edition Amid Oil Price DropAssociated Press

The Hobbs News-Sun is ending its Saturday edition and shrinking the size of the paper amid falling oil prices and the downturn caused by COVID-19.

Hobbs News-Sun Publisher Daniel Russell announced Saturday the moves in response to economic pressures the newspaper faces in the heart of New Mexico's oil and gas country.

Russell says the newspaper will continue to print editions Tuesday through Friday and Sunday. He also says the width of the paper will go from 25 inches across to 23 inches across to save money on cost. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican announced last week nearly a dozen layoffs, salary reductions and a shortened workweek thanks to the economic downturn caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Gallup Independent also said it would move its entire newspaper staff to part-time but still print regularly.

The Lake Charles, La.-based Shearman Corp. owns the Hobbs News-Sun. The newspaper was named the New Mexico Associated Press Member of the Year in 2016.

New Mexico Unveils 'Pollinator Protection' License PlateAssociated Press

For the love of bees, New Mexico is now offering motorists a chance to help the pollinators through the purchase of a special license plate.

The state Transportation Department says proceeds from the new plates will help fund planting projects along state roads. The pollinator project also will create educational gardens and reduce mowing and spraying of herbicides along roadways as a way to improve habitat for bees and other pollinators.

The plate features the artwork of a student from the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy. It costs $25 for the initial purchase and $15 for yearly renewal.

Navajo Poet Jake Skeets Wins Whiting Award - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

Navajo poet Jake Skeets has been named one of the winners of this year's Whiting Award. 

The Gallup Independent reports the Giles Whiting Foundation recently announced Skeets as one of the 10 writers to receive the honor. Last year, he was named the winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, one of the most honored literary prizes in America. 

Skeets says he writes from personal experiences and focuses on Native American issues and challenges. 

Skeets holds a master of fine arts in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and teaches English at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.