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THURS: Governor Says Virus Spike Puts State At Risk Of Uncontrollable Spread, + More

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at October 8 briefing while quarantining at her home.

Governor Warns State At Risk Of Uncontrollable Virus SpreadAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned the state is at “extreme risk of uncontrollable spread” of coronavirus Thursday in a video address from her home where she was in isolation after coming into contact with a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19.

The governor warned that uncontrolled outbreaks would lead to an overwhelming of public services, such as hospitals.

New Mexico reported 387 new cases Thursday, bringing the total to 31,756. Three new deaths were reported, raising the state’s death toll to 899.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Lujan Grisham did not announce any changes to the state’s public health order, but said the state is at risk of tightening business restrictions have been relaxed as cases fell.

The current public health order lasts through October 16, but officials could extend it. It requires people to wear masks in public, caps gatherings at ten people and limits capacities in businesses.

The Journal reported the state’s seven-day rolling average of publicly reported cases is 300. That’s three times higher than the average on Sept. 12. The state reported its second-highest daily number of confirmed cases reported Wednesday.

New Mexico To Require Job Searches For Unemployment BenefitsAssociated Press

People who have claimed unemployment benefits in New Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic will soon be required to conduct weekly job searches, a requirement previously waived because of large-scale business closures resulting in a smaller job market.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions announced Wednesday that it plans to reinstate the requirement on Oct. 25 barring any changes to the state health order from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham or the state health department.

Claimants receiving regular unemployment benefits must now document at least two work search activities each week starting Oct. 18. Verifiable searches must be reported during the weekly certification process starting Oct. 25 and each week after.

The work search requirement also can be met by attending a workshop offered statewide by New Mexico Workforce Connection Online System, which offers access to current openings, job training and career services.

The U.S. Department of Labor said that there are about 82,000 people collecting regular unemployment benefits in the state.

Prent Corp. To Open Packaging Factory In New Mexico Associated Press

A manufacturer of plastic packaging used for medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic plans to build its next factory in southern New Mexico. Prent Corporation will invest $12.5 million and create 85 jobs.

The Borderplex Alliance says the manufacturing plant could operate by the fall of 2021 if construction is approved at a large site in Santa Teresa.

Doña Ana County officials are welcoming the announcement as New Mexico's unemployment remains high compared to the national average.

The Wisconsin-based Prent Corporation has partnered with medical companies during the pandemic to ship personal protective equipment such as face shields.

The Borderplex Alliance promotes cross-border business interests in the tri-state, bi-national border region encompassing Las Cruces, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and Chihuahua, Mexico.

Navajo Nation Reports 27 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials report 27 new cases of COVID-19 with two additional deaths.

The latest numbers released Wednesday night bring the total number of cases to 10,546 including 18 additional cases that were previously unreported due to delayed reporting or reconciliation.  

The death toll now stands at 562 since the pandemic began. Tribal health officials say 110,405 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for the coronavirus and 7,301 have recovered.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

West Virginia Site Chosen For High-Speed Travel Facility - By Cuneyt Dil, Associated Press

Virgin Hyperloop One will build a certification center in West Virginia to test the high-speed transportation concept that uses enclosed pods to zip passengers underground at over 600 mph.

The company had received bids from over a dozen states, including New Mexico, in the past year to build a 6-mile testing track and other facilities over hundreds of acres. Hyperloop technology hopes to one day provide clean-energy fast travel across the country.

Virgin is studying building a route that would link Chicago and Pittsburgh in under an hour. Certification for commercial travel is still expected to be years away.

Daily Coronavirus Infections Steeply Rise In New Mexico Associated Press

Newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped to 426 statewide in the second-highest single-day tally of the pandemic.

State health officials on Wednesday also confirmed two fatalities as virus-related deaths approach the 900 mark. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is showing no signs of infection as she self-quarantines in response to one positive test result by a custodian at the governor's mansion in Santa Fe.

The rolling average of daily infections has nearly doubled over the course of the past two weeks. Education officials reported 15 infections at schools, including four children.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in New Mexico decreased over the past two weeks, going from 4 deaths per day on Sept. 22 to 3 deaths per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

At the same time, the average positivity rate has climbed over the past two weeks from 2.1% to 3.65%, and daily positive tests have nearly doubled from 120 on Sept. 22 to 235 on Tuesday.

Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

Swing-District Debate Hinges On Oil Sector, Border Security - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

GOP congressional challenger Yvette Herrell embraced President Donald Trump's border-wall strategy for immigration enforcement and burnished an anti-abortion, pro-petroleum philosophy in a bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, during a network-televised debate Wednesday.

Battling to win a second term in a swing district in an oil-producing region along the border with Mexico, Torres Small voiced no criticism of Trump and cast herself as a pragmatist who has focused on high-tech drug interdiction at ports of entry and opposed efforts in Congress to ban fracking.

The congresswoman and water lawyer noted she has earned the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association — touching on controversial praise by the petroleum trade group.

The half-hour encounter — with both congressional candidates in the same television studio — took place in the minutes leading up to Wednesday's vice presidential debate. 

Herrell repeatedly attempted to draw parallels between her opponent and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Torres Small has broken with House Democrats on multiple occasions — including two votes against the new pandemic recovery package that she says was too broad.

Both candidates voiced support for a new recovery deal, with Torres Small emphasizing the need for a second round of paycheck protection subsidies, loan forgiveness, support for rural hospitals and resources to amplify virus testing.

Herrell said she too supports an extension of supplementary unemployment benefits, though at a lower rate than the initial $600 weekly boost that she says hindered motivation to return to work.

The congressional race is a rematch from 2018, when Herrell declined to debate and lost by fewer than 4,000 votes.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the oil association praised Torres Small without endorsing her candidacy.

Democrats Dominate 1st Day Of Voting In Albuquerque Area - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Officials say Democrats cast nearly half of the ballots across New Mexico during the first day of early and absentee voting, while registered Republicans accounted for about 38% of participation.

The secretary of state's office said Wednesday that 10,157 ballots were cast statewide on the opening day of voting.

County clerks on Tuesday began distributing absentee ballots and opened their central offices to early voting. Voting convenience centers will open on Oct. 17 at hundreds of locations.

Democratic turnout was especially pronounced in Bernalillo County, the most populous metro area that encompasses Albuquerque. Democrats there accounted for 67% of early and absentee ballots.

The state's top election regulator on Wednesday warned against false claims circulating on Facebook that the governor would order polls closed in mid-October.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said that information is false and that in-person voting will be available in all 33 counties throughout the entire early voting period and on Election Day.

Absentee ballot requests have surged across the state in response to concerns about the coronavirus and the dangers of public gatherings.

As of Wednesday, nearly 330,000 people statewide had requested absentee ballots that can be cast by mail or handed in at voting locations or drop boxes. That represents a massive increase in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the 2016 presidential election about 76,000 people cast absentee ballots — less than 10% of the electorate.

On the opening day of the 2020 election, unaffiliated and small party voters accounted for about 12% of ballots.

New Mexico Weighs Court Fees Reform - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico legislators are considering proposals to reduce court fees and declutter courts in an effort to bring socioeconomic equity to the state's justice system.

Criminal justice reform advocates say court fees and fines can be unpayable, leading to a cycle of missed payments, arrests and additional fines.

The New Mexico Sentencing Commission is calling for legislation that would let judges offer payment plans to defendants and cap payments for both fines and fees at 2% of net income or a minimum of $10 per month.

They also want to streamline financial assessments by courts and reduce the money spent trying to collect payments from the poor.

The proposals were made Wednesday to the state legislature's Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee.

Ex-Catholic Priest In New Mexico Dies Before Abuse Trial Associated Press

Authorities in New Mexico say a former Roman Catholic priest has died just weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial after he was accused of raping a young girl at an Albuquerque parochial school decades ago.

The New Mexico attorney general's office said 82-year-old Sabine Griego died last week. The trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 16.

A judge had released Griego on his own recognizance, so he was not in custody while awaiting trial. Albuquerque-based attorney Levi Monagle, who is representing the survivors in the criminal lawsuit, says his death is "deeply disheartening" to survivors.

NMSU Joins Handful Of Colleges With New Signature Wine - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico State University on Thursday joined Wake Forest, James Madison and a handful of other schools in the U.S. that have their own signature wines.

The school's announcement of its new licensing venture with Lescombes family vineyards comes as universities across the country search for creative ways to generate more revenue as the pandemic has put a dent in enrollment and upended athletic programs.

The new cabernet — Crimson Legacy — from New Mexico’s oldest institution of higher learning follows the successful launch in 2017 of Pistol Pete’s 1888 Ale. The award-winning beer is sold in 300 locations around the state, with a portion of the licensing fees going to support intercollegiate athletics and student athletes.

NMSU has balanced its budget in recent years, but officials have acknowledged that reserves and the margin of error are getting thinner every year. And while the last fiscal year was bolstered by increases in ticket sales and fundraising revenues, that will not be the case this year.