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WED: No End In Sight For Emergency Restrictions As COVID-19 Cases Rise To 1,484, + More

Megan Kamerick
Customers line up outside Sprouts. Under the state's public health orders, groceries must limit the number of customers in stores at one time.

No End In Sight For New Mexico Emergency RestrictionsAssociated Press, KUNM

There is no end in sight for a public health emergency declared by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the coronavirus as deaths accelerate.

The governor and public health officials announced on Wednesday there were 80 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 1,484. There were no new deaths so the total is still 36. There are currently 90 people in the hospital and 353 have recovered.

An attorney for the governor on Tuesday says the state is almost certain to extend into May its current public health emergency that has suspended nonessential businesses and banned gatherings of more than five people.

Republican elected officials and some small business owners are pressuring the state to reopen with small niche businesses with social distancing guidelines that have been sidelined, as major retailers including Walmart consolidate control over essential and nonessential retail operations.

Staff reductions at major hospitals are roiling the state economy as state labor officials rush to distribute new unemployment benefits under a $2 trillion federal stimulus act.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Lujan Grisham is working with the White House on a pilot project to expand testing and contact tracing for people who test positive.

During Wednesday's briefing, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase praised social distancing efforts that he says are helping flatten the curve on more outbreaks. The time it takes for the virus to double is continuing to go up and is currently at 4.6 days.

New Mexico To Join Pilot US Effort On Contact Tracing - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's governor says the state has accepted an invitation from the White House to participate in a pilot program to improve and expand contact tracing for coronavirus infections in efforts to better isolate outbreaks.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the she accepted an invitation to participate in the pilot program during a conversation Wednesday with the White House, and that it was unclear whether other states would be involved.

New Mexico has consistently been among the top states in per capita testing for COVID-19 infections, while aggressively tracing new infections and developing a customized forecast model in cooperation with two national laboratories in the state.

She said it was clear the effort would involve the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, along with Ambassador Deborah Birx, a coordinator of the White House coronavirus response team and fixture of televised national news conferences.

The first-term Democratic governor has been critical of the federal preparedness for the pandemic — without calling out President Donald Trump by name — and has pushed for a nationally coordinated approach to procuring and distributing protective and medical equipment and slowing the spread of the virus.

On a day with no new deaths linked to the coronavirus, state health officials highlighted progress in lowering the so-called doubling rate —- the number of days it takes for infections to double. The rate now stands at between four and five days.

Health officials have confirmed 1,484 infections for the virus and 36 related deaths. More than 33,000 tests have been administered.

Governor Lashes Out Over Hospital LayoffsAssociated Press

During a coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lashed out at the health care sector for attempting to shelter future profits a day after several hospitals in New Mexico announced major reductions in staff.

She acknowledged that health care organizations are under financial stress because of a state directive to suspend elective, nonessential surgeries and procedures. But she added that the state has advanced $30 million in Medicare revenues, while a federal stimulus package includes $150 billion in support for the industry.

The hospital staff reduction comes on top of a collapse of the tourism sector and anemic oil prices that are roiling the state economy as state labor officials rush to distribute new unemployment benefits and small business loans.

State health officials currently expect COVID-19 infections to peak in May, putting pressure on health care capabilities — especially rural networks.

New Mexico Couple Who Ducked Sentencing Arrested In OklahomaAssociated Press

A New Mexico married couple have been arrested in Oklahoma after failing to appear in court for sentencing for financial crimes involving a now-defunct firm that offered guardianship services.

The U.S. Marshals Service's office says Susan and William Harris were arrested in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on Wednesday with the assistance of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department. The couple had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

Authorities say the couple used money transferred from accounts of Ayudando Guardians Inc. clients to pay off more than $11 million in credit card charges made by the defendants and family members.

The couple had been free pending sentencing after surrendering their passports and putting up their home in an affluent Albuquerque neighborhood as security.

New Mexico Supreme Court Sticks With In-Person Voting June 2 - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the state and local election authorities to distribute absentee ballot applications to all registered voters while rejecting a petition to scale back in-person voting in response to the coronavirus. 

Tuesday's decision by the Supreme court keeps in place in-person voting for the state's June 2 primary and at early voting centers. 

The pace of coronavirus infections in New Mexico is expected to peak in late May under current statistical modeling by state health officials. That puts the pandemic on a collision course with the primary vote. 

Democrats, including Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, wanted mail-in ballots sent out to all registered voters. The Republican Party and affiliated state lawmakers insisted that state law allows for the distribution of absentee ballots by request only.

New Mexico COVID-19 Cases Surpass 1,400 With Five Additional DeathsAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM News

The number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico have risen to 1,407 with five additional deaths bringing the statewide total to 36.

The Albuquerque Journal reports state health officials announced 62 new cases Tuesday. Most of those were concentrated in the northwest corner of the state, including McKinley and San Juan counties. Three of the five recently reported deaths were also in San Juan county. The other two were in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.

82 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 340 individuals have reportedly recovered from the virus.

Virus Outbreak Hampers 2020 Census Efforts In New Mexico - Associated Press

New Mexico officials say the suspension of field operations by the U.S. Census Bureau due to the coronavirus outbreak has left some residents in the state without the ability to easily participate in the national head count. 

The chair of New Mexico's Complete Count Commission says this has resulted in artificially lower-than-average response rates and poses a burden for the state to overcome. 

As of mid-April, 37% of New Mexico households had responded to the census, compared to a national average of 48%. 

Census workers have been unable to hand-deliver forms to households that don't have standard addresses or use P.O. boxes. Nationwide, only 5% of the population falls into this category, but nearly 18% of New Mexico households rely on a hand-delivered form. Only Alaska, West Virginia and Wyoming have a higher percentage. 

The U.S. Census Bureau plans to resume field operations in June.

State officials have been pushing for everyone to participate since it helps determine allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding.

Church Sues New Mexico Over Rules Against Mass GatheringsAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal

A church is suing the state after houses of worship were removed from an exemption of a public health order that limits gatherings to no more than five people.

Legacy Church is seeking a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction, saying the order violates the church's First Amendment rights.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the church has about 20,000 members. It named the state and Health Department Secretary Kathy Kunkel in the complaint.

Legacy is streaming its services rather than holding them in person, but Pastor Steve Smothermon says that production requires about 30 people to be in the building.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the order allows churches to continue online services and many congregations are doing that while following the public health orders on social distancing.

Hospitals Announce Staff Cuts And Furloughs Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

Hospitals around New Mexico have announced staff cuts and furloughs.

Hundreds of employees from Memorial Medical Center and MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe are being placed on temporary leave amid fallout from public health orders and a ban on elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures.

The number of COVID-19 cases rose to 1,407 Tuesday with five additional deaths bringing the total to 36.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Christus St. Vincent is placing 300 employees on “temporary low volume leave” for up to 90 days, although hospital officials said it could be longer.

CEO Lillian Montoya told the paper St. Vincent had seen a nearly 35% decline in patients and a drop of $10 million in net revenue per month.

Employees on leave will still be personnel of Christus and will retain their benefits.

Petition Seeks Release Of New Mexico Prisoners Amid Outbreak Associated Press

Some attorneys and prisoner advocates have petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for the release of more inmates from the state corrections system amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Defense attorneys, public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency petition Tuesday. They want the court to order the immediate release of those at risk of serious illness from COVID-19, those within a year of release, and those held on infractions such as parole and probation violations.

The request goes beyond the releases ordered by the governor last week. New Mexico has more than 1,400 cases of the virus. The infections include an inmate at the Santa Fe County Detention Center who previously tested negative, and one at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque.

Immigrant advocacy groups also sent a letter today to the governor, pressing her to do what she can to reduce the number of federal immigration detainees being held in county lockups in New Mexico.

The groups asked the same of governors in Colorado and New Jersey.

Data Shows Native Americans Are Nearly 37% Of COVID-19 Cases Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A new data portal rolled out by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office shows Native Americans make up 36.7% of coronavirus cases in the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Native Americans make up around 11% of New Mexico’s population. That’s according to 2019 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Department of Health officials said one reason for that large number may be due in part to the extensive testing the agency has done in Native American communities with clusters of the virus.

The number of COVID-19 cases rose to 1,407 Tuesday with five additional deaths bringing the total to 36.

In terms of age, the portal shows the greatest percentage of cases are concentrated in people ages 30 to 49, followed by people ages 50 to 69.

Trump Campaign, Democrats Using Apps In New Mexico - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

The campaign to reelect President Donald Trump quietly is turning to a get-out-the-vote app and zoom calls to train would-be volunteers in New Mexico and other southwestern states. 

Virtual training gives supporters talking points about the president's moves to fight the spread of the coronavirus. 

The TrumpTalk App allows volunteers in rural areas to make calls from home to potential voters and logs responses.

Trump Victory regional spokeswoman Samantha Zager said the goal is to foster an army for a "ground game" months ahead of the November general election. 

Democrats in New Mexico also are using apps and data.


US Wildlife Managers To Update Endangered Mexican Wolf Rule - Associated Press

U.S. wildlife officials will be looking for public comment as they prepare to update a rule that guides management of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday it will be working on a supplemental environmental review of the 2015 rule. 

The process was prompted by a 2018 court decision that ordered the agency to take another look at the rule to ensure wolf recovery in New Mexico and Arizona isn't compromised. 

The court set a deadline of May 2021 to finalize a revised rule. 

There are more than 160 wolves in the wild in the two states.

Santa Fe Mom Says Overturned Bounce House Trapped Children - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A Santa Fe woman is suing Meow Wolf after she says her children were injured when the arts and entertainment company's rented bounce house was overturned by the wind. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports attorneys for Anita Vargas didn't say in court documents how the children were hurt at the 2018 block party but alleged that the children were trapped underneath the bounce house. 

The case was filed in state district court this week. 

After the episode two years ago, Vargas posted a picture on Facebook of her son, showing his bruised and bloody face. 

Amazing Jumps LLC, the Albuquerque business that owned the bounce house, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The company declined to comment on the pending litigation Monday.

A spokesperson for Meow Wolf also didn't respond to emails.

Renowned Sculptor Who Created Vietnam Women's Memorial Dies - Associated Press

Renowned sculptor and painter Glenna Goodacre, who created the Vietnam Women's Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, has died at age 80. 

Family members say Goodacre died of natural causes Monday night at her Santa Fe home. 

Born in Lubbock, Texas, Goodacre was known mainly for her sculptures. Her work included the Irish Memorial in Philadelphia and the Sacagawea Dollar Coin. 

She is survived by her husband, two children and five grandchildren. Funeral plans weren't immediately available.

More Drought On Tap For Western US Amid Low River Flows - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The mighty Rio Grande is looking less mighty as U.S. forecasters predict spring flows will be less than half of average — or worse. That signals potential trouble for the already stressed waterway. 

The Rio Grande delivers drinking water and irrigation supplies to millions of people from southern Colorado into New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. 

With more dry years than wet ones over the last two decades, how much water ends up flowing downstream has been a point of contention among the states. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned about the river's overall health and the implications of another dry year for silvery minnows and other imperiled species.

Group: Santa Fe Homes On Market Hit Record Low - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Homes on the market hit a record low in New Mexico's Capital amid a slowdown and the spread of COVID-19. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the number of single-family homes on the market in Santa Fe County in the first quarter was the lowest it's been since officials began keeping such data in 2005.

The Santa Fe Association of Realtors says record-low new listings reinforced the record-low inventory of 358 homes for sale in Santa Fe County during the first three months of 2020.