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KUNM News Update

THURS: Virus Cases Dropping But Governor Wants More Progress Before Re-Opening, + More

Santa Fe New Mexican (pool photo)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at August 13, 2020 briefing

Governor Sets Goal Of 168 Virus Cases Per Day To Relax Health Order – Albuquerque Journal

The number of new COVID-19 cases continues to decline in New Mexico, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says they must continue dropping before the public health order can be lifted.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the governor set a goal for a 7-day rolling average of 168 daily cases during a public update on Thursday. A Journal analysis shows the state is currently at 174.

The state reported 177 new cases Thursday bringing the total to 22,987.

There were two additional deaths as well and that total is now 697. That included a woman in her 30s in McKinley County with underlying health conditions.

There are 9,980 COVID-19 cases designated as having recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The current public health order is in effect until Aug. 28. It bans indoor dining and limits the capacity to 25% for retailers, salons and other businesses. It also prohibits gatherings of more than five people.

The governor also urged more people to send in their Census forms. New Mexico’s response rate is just 54% so far. That puts the state near the bottom nationally.

The Census helps determine how much federal funding states get for things like highways, education and Medicaid.

New Mexico Governor Warns Of Family, Labor Day Gatherings - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says family gatherings and long holiday weekends have been a source of infection for many New Mexicans who have contracted COVID-19.

She warned during a briefing Thursday that gatherings in a COVID-19 world make for the worst possible situation. She asked everyone to buckle down and stick to the five-person limit mandated by the state's public health order.

Her plea comes as state officials monitor the rate of spread as a deadline approaches for determining whether public schools can resume limited in-person classes after Labor Day.

The governor and health officials were optimistic as they reported a decline in daily case counts.

An additional 177 confirmed cases were reported Thursday, bringing the total to 22,987 since the pandemic began. Two more deaths were also reported, bringing that tally to 697.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Officials said they were most concerned about the southeastern part of the state.

Another concern is that nearly 16% of cases in New Mexico involve people under the age of 20. That's higher than the rest of the country, Scrase said.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase on Thursday also discussed the potential for lasting health problems that might result from an infection — from high blood pressure to heart issues and shortness of breath.

He and the governor urged people to continue wearing face coverings, washing their hands and staying home when possible.

Parents Scramble For Child Care As Schools Stay Online - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

Working parents in New Mexico are scrambling to find child care as summer programs and in-person public schooling is delayed until at least Labor Day.

Hundreds of child care centers remain shuttered due to staffing shortages stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says New Mexico will fall short on meeting everyone's child care needs in the short term.

Efforts by Lujan Grisham's newly created child care agency could help, but parents still are having to decide whether to pay for private schooling, cut back hours or create home schooling groups.

Of the 995 licensed child care centers in New Mexico, less than 60% were open at the height of the pandemic, according to the Early Childhood Education Department. As of last week, 627 were open and the state was working to get more open.

The agency supported child care centers over the summer with staff, subsidies and parent copay waivers.

It has approved 66 emergency permits to allow family, friends, and neighbors to care for up to four children from low-income households after a background check.

Union Votes No Confidence, Calls For Santa Fe Mayor's Ouster Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Some Santa Fe city employees are calling on the city council to remove Mayor Alan Webber. The city's union approved a 'no confidence' vote Wednesday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the resolution cites concerns about mismanagement over the past few years — from the death of an electrician last year to a botched plan to remove historical markers and statues following protests this year.

Santa Fe Local 3999 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has called for a mayor's removal before. In 2007, the union voted 'no confidence in then-Mayor David Coss over meddling in disciplinary actions.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The no confidence vote comes as the city faces a large deficit due to the coronavirus shutdown that virtually halted local tourism, freezing a major source of city revenues.

New Mexico State University Announces Likely Faculty Cuts Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University said there will likely be faculty cuts because of a reduced budget spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. University regents approved a 10.5% budget reduction to the main campus in July.

University President John Floros says the school will evaluate each department and college separately. Floros says he believes the university will be able to cut costs without furloughs or salary reductions.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that every department at the university must submit plans for a 6%, 9% and 12% budget cut to Floros by September.

The administration will announce their final decisions in October after reviewing the plans.

Excessive Heat To Bake US Southwest Through Coming WeekendAssociated Press

Excessive heat is expected across the U.S. Southwest into early next week, with forecasters warning of temperatures over 110 degrees in desert cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

High temperatures are expected to be be the norm through Monday across  much of Arizona, and the National Weather Service said high temperature records might be broken in central and eastern New Mexico.

Temperatures were expected to reach 114 degrees in Phoenix on both Friday and Saturday and 113 degrees in Las Vegas on Sunday. According to ta Twitter post by the weather service's Phoenix office, the five-day ""can be described by one word...HOT!" 

Navajo Man Loses Latest Bid To Delay Federal Execution - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

A judge has rejected a bid from the only Native American on death row to push back his execution date. U.S. District Judge David Campbell in Arizona issued the ruling Thursday.

Attorneys for Lezmond Mitchell had argued the federal execution must comply with Arizona law in seeking the delay.

Campbell said the attorneys didn't identify any procedures in Arizona statutes or criminal rules that conflict with federal protocol when it comes to how Mitchell would die.

Mitchell's attorneys said they will appeal. The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment. Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death Aug. 26 in Indiana.

Tribes have long been able to decide on capital punishment for a set of major crimes committed by Native Americans on tribal land.

The Navajo Nation said no to executing Mitchell, despite the grisly nature of the killings. Mitchell was sentenced to death on a charge of carjacking resulting in death — a crime that carries the possibility of a death sentence regardless of where it happens.

New Mexico City Agrees To Police Reforms In Choke Settlement - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A New Mexico city will seek to adopt racial bias training for police and may require officers to intervene in possible excessive force episodes following the choking death of a Latino man.

An agreement announced Thursday between the city of Las Cruces and a lawyer for the family of Antonio Valenzuela was part of the relatives' push to reform the city's police.

Police say then-Las Cruces Officer Christopher Smelser applied the chokehold after Valenzuela fled during a traffic stop in February. Valenzuela died at the scene.

Smelser was later fired and faces a murder charge. His lawyer says the charge was a political move meant to grab headlines.

Project Will Bring Drinking Water To New Mexico PueblosAssociated Press

Work is underway on a project that will bring drinking water to residents of four northern New Mexico pueblos as part of a settlement that ended a decades-long fight over water rights.

Federal officials said construction on the Pojoaque Basin regional water system began this week. The pueblos of Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso and Tesuque will benefit along with other residents of Santa Fe County.

The system will divert water from the Rio Grande. It will include treatment facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines with the capability to supply about 3.57 million gallons of drinking water a day.

Officials with the federal Bureau of Reclamation said the project will cost about $400 million and will take several years to complete.

They say there's a need for more action by Congress, as lawmakers will need to raise the ceiling for spending related to the project in order to move beyond limited construction. Currently, spending is capped at a little more than $200 million.

New Mexico Wants Trump Unemployment Offer, Says No To Match - Associated Press

New Mexico is saying yes to President Donald Trump's offer to provide a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits, though without increasing the state's standard payout as suggested.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley on Wednesday said the state has submitted an application to the U.S. government that would provide an additional $300 per week to residents who receive unemployment benefits. 

If approved, that would bring the maximum weekly benefit to $761. 

Trump's Aug. 1 executive order called for payments up to $400 each week, suggesting that states pick up 25% of the tab. 

New Mexico's unemployment trust withered to $80 million this month as labor officials seek a $285 million loan from the U.S. Treasury to sustain payments through October. The state is confronting a billion-dollar general fund budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.

In a statement about the application, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she still hopes that Congress will pass a new economic aid package to bolster unemployment funds.


Legislature Probes Pandemic Spending Amid Partisan Clashes - Associated Press

Leading New Mexico legislators moved forward Wednesday with an examination of at least $30 million in emergency spending authorized by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham without legislative approval in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

A panel of lawmakers authorized contract attorneys to continue efforts to confirm details about sources and destinations of the emergency spending, as lawmakers openly clashed about whether the governor had overstepped her authority and acted appropriately. 

Republican lawmakers say Lujan Grisham infringed on the Legislature's authority over state spending by signing emergency spending orders far in excess of a $750,000 statutory limit, and suggested that a lawsuit may be needed to compel the release of more details.

Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf accused Republicans of trying to score partisan political points during an election season.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has described the $750,000 threshold as a default number that has been exceeded by current and past governors when disasters warrant. 

Democrats including Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe say they support bipartisan efforts to revise outdated statutes on emergency spending.

New Office In New Mexico To Focus On Indigenous Cold Cases - Associated Press

U.S. officials have opened an office in New Mexico dedicated to investigating cold cases involving Indigenous people who are missing or have been killed. 

The office in Albuquerque is part of an effort to address violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls. 

The office is the fourth of seven that are being established across the country as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force created via executive order by President Donald Trump in November. 

Other offices will be located in Arizona, Alaska and Tennessee. 

The goal is to develop protocols for law enforcement to respond to cases involving missing and slain Indigenous people and to improve data collection.


New Mexico Warns Of Fake Face Mask Exemption Cards - Associated Press

New Mexico health officials are warning residents that fraudulent face mask exemption cards are being distributed to the public. 

The state Health Department says the cards falsely purport to be issued by the state agency and the U.S. Justice Department. The fake cards display the logos of the two agencies and claim that denial of the cardholder access to a business or organization despite not wearing a face mask will result in a fine. 

A photo of one such card tweeted out by the Health Department also showed it had several spelling and grammatical errors. 

Officials say anyone caught creating or using the cards could face a felony charge. Federal authorities also have issued similar warnings elsewhere that such cards are fake. 

The Health Department is working with the state attorney general's office to ensure anyone issuing fraudulent exemption cards is prosecuted. 

Face coverings are mandated in New Mexico as part of a public health order aimed at keeping the coronavirus in check. 

The state on Thursday reported an additional 177 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to nearly 23,000 since the pandemic began.

New Mexico History Museum, Monument Vandalized In Santa Fe - Associated Press

A statue honoring a Hispanic priest and World War II veteran has been vandalized, as have the New Mexico History Museum walls. 

Police say the vandalism took place Monday on the 340th anniversary of the Pueblo Revolt and appears to be connected to protests targeting Spanish colonial monuments in New Mexico. 

The bronze statue of Fray Angélico Chávez was hit with red paint. The walls of the museum were painted to say "1680 Land Back" in red. 

Chávez served as a major in the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean War and was a priest, poet, historian, archivist, artist, author, biographer, and genealogist. He developed theories about the origins of the Pueblo Revolt that some consider revisionist history.

The New Mexico History Museum, located on the historic plaza in downtown Santa Fe, tells New Mexico's story from prehistoric times to the present.

New Mexico State Police spokesman Dusty Franciso says the case is under investigation. 

No arrests have been made.

New Mexico's Largest Newspapers Combine Printing Operations - Associated Press

The Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican are partnering to print both publications at the New Mexican's production facility in Santa Fe. 

The state's two largest newspapers made the announcement Tuesday and said discussions about consolidation of the printing operations have been ongoing for years. 

Officials say the move will increase efficiency. 

As a result, there will be up to 70 layoffs at the Journal's print facility in Albuquerque.

Officials say the change will take effect Oct. 12 and will not affect the size or content of either newspaper. 

The newsrooms of the two newspapers will remain separate and maintain independent operations.

New Mexico Health Insurance Co-Op Prepares To Close - Associated Press

A cooperative health insurance provider to 14,000 customers on New Mexico's subsidized marketplace will cease operations at the start of 2021. 

State insurance regulators announced Tuesday that New Mexico Health Connections will not be an option during the open enrollment period that starts Nov. 1. 

People who lose their job-based insurance as a result of the economic crisis linked to COVID-19 are expected to flock to both Medicaid insurance and New Mexico's insurance exchange that provides subsidies to households with low and moderate incomes. 

Five insurance carriers are expected to participate in the state exchange in 2021.

Health Connections CEO Marlene Baca said in a statement that claims will be paid through the end of the calendar year by the co-op that was formed in 2012.

She said the company's board decided that future growth projections were not enough to ensure successful operations.

More than 40,000 people rely on New Mexico's state-based health insurance exchange for individuals and families.

Navajo Nation Reports 22 More COVID-19 Cases, 4 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 22 more cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. That brings the total number of people infected to 9,356 and the known death toll to 477 as of Wednesday. 

Navajo Department of Health officials say 86,759 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 6,920 have recovered. 

Tribal President Jonathan Nez pointed to the latest coronavirus figures as evidence that most Navajo Nation residents are complying with lockdown orders and the advice of medical experts. 

The tribe has a work group determining a plan to gradually reopen the reservation.