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WED: Public Health Restrictions Likely To Last Into May, + More

Luis Sanchez Saurno, Santa Fe New Mexican
Michelle Lujan Grisham during a coronavirus briefing on April 22, 2020

New Mexico Likely To Extend Public Health Orders Into MayAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday public health orders aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak will likely be extended to May 15 as the state looks to ramp up testing for COVID-19.

There are now 64 testing sites and the goal is to get a more complete picture of the virus' prevalence. While the state has yet to get the supplies needed for the additional testing, the governor said she has "a strategy" for doing that. She did not offer specifics.

The state has more than 2,200 cases, and 71 people have died. The cases have been centered in Bernalillo, McKinley, Sandoval and San Juan counties. In McKinley County alone, there were several dozen new cases reported Wednesday.

State Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties were beginning to flatten their curves. However, there were still concerns about the counties in the northwest.

Mental health and substance abuse programs also will be getting an infusion of funding as part of the U.S. government's relief efforts related to the outbreak. Members of the state's congressional delegation say a $2 million grant has been awarded to the Human Services Department to fund behavioral health services.

To increase access to behavioral health resources and support services, the state has launched NMConnect, a new app that provides free 24-hour crisis and non-crisis support.

State Lays Out Initial Criteria For Reopening StateAlbuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday for the first time set out criteria that would allow for the state to gradually reopen its economy in phases as data showed social distancing has helped flatten the curve on coronavirus infections.

The Albuquerque Journal reported there were also six more deaths bringing the total to 71 and 139 new cases of COVID-19. That brings the total to 2,210.

But Human Services Secretary David Scrase said there are no longer projected shortages of  ICU beds and ventilators, although northwest New Mexico remains a hot spot. However, he also warned this is just one week of data and small changes in infection rates could change how the disease spreads. Older residents remain at high risk.

State officials said there must be several factors before there can be a return to a more open state. Those include declines in active coronavirus cases, more widespread testing and increased hospital capacity.

Navajo Nation Extends Closing Of Tribal Government To May 17Associated Press

The closure of the Navajo Nation's tribal government because of the coronavirus outbreak is being extended into late May.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez on Wednesday announced that he issued an executive order Tuesday extending the closure of government offices and related facilities to May 17 from the previous expiration date of April 26.

Nez said there's a "slight flattening of the curve" but there's still a need to remain vigilant.  The tribe has reported 1,206 positive COVID-19 cases and 48 known deaths as of Tuesday.

However, officials said the numbers don't include cases for border towns as was being previously reported by the Navajo Epidemiology Center.  The tribe's reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

New Mexico Land Office Approves Emergency Oil And Gas RuleAssociated Press

New Mexico's top land manager has approved an emergency rule that would allow oil and gas companies that lease state trust land to temporarily stop producing without penalty for at least thirty days.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard on Tuesday said longer-term relief will be coming through a rule change process already underway.

The shutting in of wells has been deemed necessary by the State Land Office based on plunging oil prices and storage capacity challenges, including the first-ever negative value of oil seen in the U.S.

Revenue from mineral development on state trust land benefits New Mexico public schools, hospitals and universities.

NMSU Regents Approve Tuition Hike Amid Budget UncertaintiesAssociated Press

Regents at New Mexico State University have approved an increase in tuition for the next school year.

University leaders said Tuesday the revenue that will come from the 3% increase will be needed to support additional student scholarships and because of continued uncertainty with the state's budget contribution for the coming year.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu said under any scenario, a tuition increase was going to be necessary given the financial effects of the dramatic drop in oil prices.

The tuition hike will apply to the main campus in Las Cruces, not NMSU's community colleges.

The state's budget relies heavily on the price of oil. Even with the tuition increase, the university still projects a deficit for the coming year.

New Mexico Regulators Concerned About Replacement Power Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Replacing a coal-fired power plant that has served customers in the American Southwest for decades won't be easy, and decisions made by New Mexico regulators will have ramifications for decades.

Members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission shared their concerns during a meeting Wednesday about the locations of the new generation stations and whether they'll be enough to offset taxes and other revenue that will be lost with the planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

The commission next week will make a final decision on whether to approve a pair of hybrid solar-battery storage units to replace part of the lost capacity.

Legislation adopted in 2019 that cleared the way for the closure of the San Juan power plant and mandated more renewable energy also included language to guarantee some replacement power sources would be located in the same area so local government entities could retain tax bases and bond ratings.

The hybrid solar-battery storage units would amount to about $430 million in investment, but neither would be located within the school district's boundaries. One would be on Jicarilla Apache tribal land and the other to the south in McKinley County.

The commission's hearing examiners reviewing the case have recommended approval, saying the state's new Energy Transition Act spells out the factors that must be considered and that the commission can still select other replacement options to directly benefit the area.

Search On For Possible Escaped Serval In New MexicoKRQE-TV, Associated Press

New Mexico officials are searching for a possible escaped exotic cat in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, suburb.

KRQE-TV reports New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says it's investigating reports of an escaped serval from a Rio Rancho home. People who live in the Enchanted Hill subdivision say they were on alert Monday night after the cat escaped.

Animal control reportedly captured a cat said to be a Savannah cat --- a cross between a serval and another breed. But it's unclear if it is the same cat officials sought. Game and Fish officials say they are still investigating. Possession of a serval is prohibited without a permit.

New Testing Site Expands Capacity In Albuquerque Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A new site in Albuquerque is expanding testing capacity for COVID-19 in the state’s largest city.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the site is open to people regardless of symptoms. The location at Academy and Wyoming is a partnership between Walmart and Quest Diagnostics and is focused on health care providers and first responders. People must set up an appointment at Quest’s website.

Lovelace Medical Center had expanded testing over the weekend to anyone, regardless of whether they had symptoms, but a spokesperson said that has been temporarily discontinued.

State officials announced Tuesday 103 additional people tested positive for COVID-19 bringing the total number of cases to 2,072. There were seven additional deaths, bringing that total to 65.

This story reflects an update that testing for anyone regardless of symptoms at Lovelace Medical Center has been discontinued.

New Mexico Now Has 2,072 Coronavirus Cases, 65 Known Deaths - Associated Press

New Mexico now has more than 2,000 coronavirus cases with seven more deaths, pushing that total to at least 65. 

State Department of Health officials announced 103 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday that increased the total number of cases to 2,072. 

They said five of the new deaths occurred in Bernalillo County and four were residents of the La Vida Llena retirement home in Albuquerque. 

The fifth county death was a resident of the Central Desert Behavioral Health facility in Albuquerque with the other deaths in Chaves County and McKinley County. 

Bernalillo County, the state's most populous, now has 585 coronavirus cases. 

Navajo Nation Now Has 1,206 Coronavirus Cases And 48 Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Department of Health reports 63 new cases of coronavirus on the vast reservation with three more deaths. 

The Navajo Nation now has 1,206 positive COVID-19 cases and 48 known deaths as of Tuesday. But tribal health officials say the numbers don't include cases for border towns as was being previously reported by the Navajo Epidemiology Center.  

They say the 1,206 cases includes 569 men and 637 women with an average age of 48 and the average age among deaths at 65. 

The Navajo Nation covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Navajo County in Arizona has 328 of the coronavirus cases with New Mexico's McKinley County having 244.

University Of New Mexico Scientists Reusing Protective Gear KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Scientists and clinical staff at the University of New Mexico have started to sterilize and reuse single-use personal protective equipment.

The effort joins other universities and hospitals around the country in a bid to salvage dwindling supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

KOAT-TV reported that medical facilities across the country are looking for alternatives, while others are using a sterilization technique to help with decreasing supplies.

Officials say the sterilization process can take up to four hours, but 1,000 masks can be sterilized at a time. N95 masks and protective eyewear can be repurposed up to 20 times.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland Up In Money Race For Reelection - Associated Press

Congresswoman Deb Haaland is maintaining a comfortable lead in the money race for reelection for her Albuquerque seat. 

Federal campaign election records show the Albuquerque Democrat raised over $243,000 during the first three months of 2020. 

Her campaign also reported having nearly $327,000 cash-on-hand. 

Republican dairy farmer Jared Vander Dussen reported raising over $30,000 and had over $106,000 cash-on-hand. 

Retired police officer Michelle Garcia Holmes pulled in nearly $14,000 and had nearly $126,000 cash-on-hand. 

Haaland is serving in her first term in Congress. She is one of the first Native American women in the U.S. House.