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THURS: Coronavirus Infections Surge On Navajo Nation, Governor Eases Some Restrictions, + More

FILE - This Aug. 10, 2018, photo, shows a makeshift living compound in Amalia, N.M. A U.S. district court on Thursday, March 10, 2022, is evaluating the mental health of a woman charged with kidnapping, firearms and terrorism-related counts nearly four years after authorities arrested her and four other adults from an extended family at a squalid New Mexico compound while recovered the remains of a 3-year-old boy. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)
Luis Sanchez Saturno, Santa Fe New Mexican
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at April 30 coronavirus briefing

Navajo Infections Surge As Trump Prepares To Visit Southwest - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

U.S. health officials say coronavirus infections are beginning a renewed surge on the Navajo Nation and bordering areas that may peak around May 10. 

In a press briefing Thursday, officials with Indian Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described efforts to containing the virus on remote stretches of the Navajo Nation.

The Centers for Disease Control has deployed two field teams to the Navajo Nation at the request of tribal authorities. Federal authorities have opened to two alternative care centers in the region that can expand bed capacity at hospitals by caring for recovering COVID-19 patients with oxygen treatment and other therapies.

There were 1,977 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 62 deaths on the Navajo Nation as of Wednesday, according to federal and tribal officials.

In New Mexico's rural McKinley County, confirmed infections climbed to 1,027 as of Thursday, surpassing the infection total in Albuquerque. Infections were reported three nursing homes in Gallup.

State Human Services Secretary says intensive care beds have hit maximum capacity in McKinley County. Patients are being transferred to Albuquerque, where hospitals using emergency triage plan to expand intensive care capabilities.

That surge comes as President Donald Trump on Thursday said the federal government will not be extending its coronavirus social distancing guidelines and tried to dispel economic gloom, saying he was anticipating a major financial rebound in the coming months. He plans to visit Arizona next week.

Coronavirus Infections Surge In Native American Region - Associated Press

Confirmed coronavirus infections are surging in a New Mexico county where nearly 80% of residents are Native American. 

Health officials reported Wednesday there are 133 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in McKinley County on the Arizona state line that includes the Zuni Pueblo and parts of the Navajo Nation. 

Statewide infections increased by 239 for the day to more than 3,200 positive tests. 

Two deaths in McKinley and Sandoval counties increased the statewide death toll to 112 from the virus. 

Governor Extends Stay-At-Home Order To May 15 With Relaxed RestrictionsAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is extending an emergency health order through May 15 while relaxing restrictions on nonessential businesses that offer curbside service and deliveries and allowing gun shops, veterinary offices and state parks to reopen with restrictions.

Confirmed infections statewide in New Mexico climbed to 3,411 on Thursday. There were 11 new fatalities that brought the overall death toll to 123.

The Albuquerque Journal reported other restrictions will remain in place. Indoor malls, gyms, theaters, casinos and dine-in restaurants will remain closed. A requirement for a 14-day isolation period for any travelers from outside the state also remains.

Lujan Grisham held out hope for a larger and gradual reopening by mid-May, but only if virus transmission slows. She reiterated the need to continue social distancing, avoiding unnecessary trips and wearing a mask.

New Mexico Supreme Court Orders Mayor To Keep Health Orders - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered the mayor of the small city of Grants to comply with a health order and stop nonessential businesses from reopening.

The high court issued its ruling Thursday after Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a petition seeking an order following Grants Mayor Martin "Modey" Hicks move to let his city's businesses to open despite rising New Mexico COVID-19 cases.

Hicks said he would allow stores and the city's golf course in the small western New Mexico town of 9,000 residents to reopen. That came despite warnings from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that state police would issue citations to businesses that don't comply.

Virtual Meetings Set For Drilling Plan Near National Park - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal land managers plan to hold a series of virtual meetings on a contested plan that will guide oil and gas development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park for at least the next decade.

The first meeting will be May 14. Four others will follow. Environmentalists, some Native American tribes and other critics have been asking the Bureau of Land Management to extend the public comment period on the resource management plan.

They say federal officials should wait until the coronavirus outbreak subsides so the public has more opportunity to participate in the process.

They say federal officials should wait until the coronavirus outbreak subsides. 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.

Historians say the area contains the remnants of what was once a hub of indigenous civilization that aligned its structures with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon.

While drilling is off-limits within the park's boundaries, concerns in recent years have expanded beyond environmental effects to the preservation of cultural landmarks. Tribes, environmentalists and archaeologists all warn that unchecked development could compromise significant spots outside Chaco's boundaries.

Scientists Examine Hurdles To Us Plutonium Disposal Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Security and the availability of space at the U.S. government's only underground nuclear waste repository are among the hurdles identified by experts tasked with studying the viability of a plan to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released its final report Thursday on the decades-long $18 billion plan to dilute and dispose of the waste at the remote site in southern New Mexico.

The report expands on preliminary findings first released in 2018. The experts found that the plan is technically viable and offered suggestions on how limit potential risks that would come from dealing with the plutonium waste.

Governor Says County Officials Violated Public Health Orders Associated Press

A spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Doña Ana County officials violated the governor's health order prohibiting mass gatherings by allowing an in-person audience at a Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported County Manager Fernando Macias said he didn't know whether the county violated the order but that the county tried to structure the meeting as safely as possible.

Lujan Grisham spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett said audiences aren't permitted under the order and that county and municipal governments are expected to follow it.

An audience of several dozen attended the meeting during which the board approved a resolution calling on the state to reopen closed businesses.

Court Forces New Mexico COVID-19 Patients To Self-Isolate – Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

Two uncooperative coronavirus patients in New Mexico were ordered to self-isolate after state health officials obtained court orders in April.

Department of Health spokesperson David Morgan declined to say who had been subjected to the orders or why they were imposed.

The DOH recently announced it would seek public health orders to force someone who tested positive for COVID-19 to remain isolated or quarantined if they refused to do so voluntarily.

Department officials say any offenders could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed for up to six months for each violation.

The number of COVID-19 cases jumped to 3,213 Wednesday with 239 new positive tests. The Albuquerque Journal reported it was the biggest daily increase in cases to date.

The state has identified positive cases in residents and/or staff at 17 congregate and acute care facilities. Two more deaths brought the total to 112.

Native Americans make up just over half the cases in the state, despite being only 11% of New Mexico’s population. The Albuquerque Journal reported the Navajo Nation now has 1,873 cases and 60 deaths.

The majority of the reservation cases are in McKinley County, New Mexico, which also has the highest number of cases in the state.

Navajo Nation Continues Weekend Lockdown Due To Coronavirus - Associated Press

Residents on the Navajo Nation will be under another lockdown this weekend as the tribe seeks to keep the coronavirus from spreading even further into communities.

The lockdown is the fourth the tribe has implemented. It comes around the first of the month when tribal members often travel to towns bordering the reservation to shop for food and other supplies.

Tribal officials say they are working with businesses on the reservation to create safeguards for Navajo elders, such as extending shopping hours exclusively for them and others who are at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.

Anyone who doesn't need to leave their homes for food, medicine or in the case of an emergency is being told to stay home.

Navajo Vice President Myron Lizer urged people to tell family members, friends and co-workers to stay home. He says the number of deaths on the Navajo Nation is sad and has devastated many families. 

The weekend lockdown starts Friday at 8 p.m. MDT and ends Monday at 5 a.m. MDT.

The Albuquerque Journal reports, as of Wednesday, the tribe's health officials reported 1,977 positive cases of COVID-19 and 62 deaths. The 27,000 square-mile reservation stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

GOP US House Hopefuls In New Mexico Press For TV Debates - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Republican U.S. House candidates in a crucial race in southern New Mexico say they want to participate in televised and radio debates. 

Oil executive Claire Chase last week issued a public challenge to her two GOP opponents to participate in a televised and radio debate ahead of the June 2 primary. 

Las Cruces businessman and House candidate Chris Mathys accepted Chase's challenge. Former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell responded by asking for three television and three radio debates before the primary. 

Herrell faced criticism during her unsuccessful run against Democratic U.S Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for refusing to participate in any televised debates and for failing to campaign in Hispanic communities in a district where Latinos make up the majority of the population. She has since vowed not to repeat that mistake.

So far, there has been no televised debate among the Republican candidates seeking their party's nomination to challenge Torres Small, a Las Cruces Democrat, for the traditionally Republican-leaning seat. However, the candidates have participated in several smaller forums.

New Mexico Obtains Machine To Decontaminate PPE Associated Press

The state has received a machine that can decontaminate scarce personal protective equipment for reuse by healthcare workers during the coronavirus outbreak. That’s according to the Department of Health.

DOH said hospital workers and others should begin saving unsoiled N95 masks for decontamination, which will start this weekend.

Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio-based research and development nonprofit, repurposed an older chemical decontamination technique to decontaminate N95 masks for reuse, the department said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracted with Battelle for 60 of the machines and then accepted applications to determine what states get them based on need.

New Mexico Regulators Defer Decision On Solar-Battery Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are putting off a decision on a proposal by the state's largest electric provider to build two hybrid solar-battery storage facilities even though bids for the projects were set to expire soon.

The new units would help fill the void left when Public Service Co. of New Mexico closes its major coal-fired power plant in 2022.

A divided Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to defer any action on the hybrid units, saying they want a full examination of the other resources the utility is seeking approval for as it looks to transition to more renewable energy over the next two decades.

Agency Wants $8K Reimbursement From Lawmaker, Ex-LeaderAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

An agency that promotes the Los Alamos National Laboratory is asking a state lawmaker to pay back $8,000 in reimbursements paid to her while she served as the organization's executive director.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities wants Democratic state Rep. Andrea Romero to pay back the money she made before her election in 2018.

Romero previously reimbursed the agency $2,200, but that was before the state Auditor's Office released a report in August 2018 that identified 18 negative findings.

Romero said she would not comment until she had seen the letter asking for new reimbursements.


Resolution Proposed In Fake Indian Art Prosecution - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A federal court is considering a proposed plea agreement in an alleged counterfeiting scheme that passed off crafts made in the Philippines as the work of Native American artisans.

Two bulk vendors of Native American-style crafts and jewelry pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to fraudulently passing off counterfeit crafts as authentic American Indian-produced goods at a video conference court hearing.

Jawad Khalaf and Nashat Khalaf entered guilty pleas in an agreement subject to review by a U.S. District Court judge. The two defendants have previously denied accusations that they violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

The 1990 law makes it a crime to falsely market and sell art as Native American-made when it is not. It was aimed at protecting the marketplace for authentic Indian crafts that provide a vital source of income for Native Americans across the U.S. while ensuring the preservation of ancient cultures.

Jawad Khalaf appeared by videoconference from Saudi Arabia, in a concession to travel restrictions related to the coronavirus, to accept the plea agreement under oath and acknowledge that he knowingly tried to sell a canteen in 2015 as a valuable work of indigenous craftsmanship.

The plea agreement includes a $300,000 donation to the U.S. Indian Arts and Craft Board, under the Interior Department, which provides support for authentic Indian art and crafts.

No direct restitution was offered to Native American artists because the bogus item were not marketed as the work of specific artists.

Tribes Urge Treasury To Disburse Coronavirus Relief Funding - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

Tribal nations are urging the federal government to quickly disburse coronavirus relief funding after a judge handed them an early victory in a legal battle involving the money.

At least 18 tribes sued the federal government seeking to keep any portion of the $8 billion in funding allocated to tribes out of the hands of Alaska Native corporations.

A judge in Washington D.C. issued a ruling late Monday to temporarily halt any payments to the corporations while he settles the larger question of eligibility.

The decision clears the U.S. Treasury Department to begin distributing money to 574 federally recognized tribes. An attorney for the agency declined comment.

The Albuquerque Journal reported U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján joined six other House Democrats to urge the Treasury Department to release funding immediately to tribal governments.