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TUES: New Mexico Residents Endure Long Waits For COVID-19 Test Results, + More

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New Mexico Residents Endure Long Wait For Virus Results – Associated Press

Health officials say New Mexico residents have encountered longer lines for COVID-19 testing and must wait several days or weeks for test results as confirmed coronavirus cases surge throughout the state.

Health Department spokeswoman Marisa Maez said Monday the waits are happening because more daily cases mean more testing, putting strain on laboratories.

The Health Department says the state's seven-day average daily testing number is 12,651 — compared to less than 5,000 tests daily over the summer.

There is also a slower process of informing people about results because most are opting out of text message alerts and that forces health workers to make calls directly.
Maez said many people don't answer because they are called from numbers they don't know.

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

Watchdog: US Nuclear Dump Facing Space, Staffing Challenges – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A nonpartisan congressional watchdog says the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump could run out of room if the number of drums shipped to the New Mexico site keeps expanding.

The Government Accountability Office in a recent report said better planning is needed at Southern New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, to avoid potential disruptions.

The U.S. Energy Department estimates the facility's existing physical space will be full around 2025. The agency faces a statutory limitation on how much waste can be entombed at the site.

The Government Accountability Office acknowledged in its report that the Energy Department is under pressure to make sure it doesn't run out of space, particularly since the federal government's plan for restarting production of the plutonium cores used in the nation's nuclear arsenal will result in a new stream of waste that will need to be disposed of.

The Energy Department has estimated that the repository would need to operate at least another three decades — if not longer — to meet disposal needs.

Peppered Chub Proposed By Agency As Endangered Species – Associated Press

A proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published Tuesday would list a small fish known as the peppered chub as an endangered species and designate parts of rivers in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico as its critical habitat.

The minnow-like fish once found in each of the four states and in Colorado is now found only in parts of the upper South Canadian River in New Mexico and Texas, one of the four river sections proposed for protection, according to the plan published in the Federal Register.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the three other river sections needed immediate protection so the peppered chub could be reintroduced there before they disappear completely.

The four river stretches make up nearly 1,100 miles and include parts of the upper South Canadian, the lower South Canadian River in Texas and Oklahoma, and the Cimarron River and the Ninnescah Rivers, which both flow in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Public comment on the proposal may be submitted electronically to http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

New Mexico Counties Have Long Way To Go Under Virus System - By Morgan Lee And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico is moving to a county-by-county system for responding to COVID-19 that allows local communities to shed some restrictions on mass gatherings, restaurant dining, attendance at religious services and some nonessential businesses — if the virus retreats.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new details of the system as the nation braces for a potential new surge of infections related to Thanksgiving gatherings and travel. The approach, she said, aims to empower communities to work cohesively, incentivizing behavior, testing and tactics that limit transmission of the coronavirus.

At this point, only one of New Mexico's 33 counties — Los Alamos County — would be eligible to ease restrictions on gatherings and resume indoor dining at restaurants.

The new system will take effect Wednesday.

The color-coded system for virus restrictions would rate counties with low rates of virus infection or positive test results as "yellow" or "green."

Tight restrictions will continue in "red" counties with high rates of coronavirus infection and positive test outcomes.

On Wednesday, the state plans to universally lift some provisions of its two-week lockdown by restoring limited outdoor restaurant dining and allowing "close contact" businesses such as exercise gyms to reopen at 25% of capacity with up to 10 customers.

Lujan Grisham and Human Service Secretary David Scrase acknowledged that the state is confronting stark threats to its public health system, as high infection rates return to the northwest area of the state. In April and May, the virus rampaged through that region, where many structures lack full indoor plumbing and multi-generation households are commonplace.

In a statement, the state Republican Party said the governor was stoking false hope and that reopening for many counties would be months away under the new criteria.

The pandemic and companion health restrictions are taking a heavy toll on New Mexico's economy and public education.

The state's unemployment insurance fund is depleted and running on federal loans; lines are forming each day outside grocery stores due to capacity limits; students remain stuck at home learning online; and hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed.

Top officials with some of the state's largest health care providers said Monday that hospitals are full and modeling shows capacity will continue to be surpassed over the coming weeks, despite the state's lockdown on many businesses. The officials indicated that much of the increase in cases is not based on businesses being open but rather from family and friends gathering indoors.

Behavioral changes have to come from within, said Dr. Rohini McKee, chief quality and safety officer at University of New Mexico Hospital.

Still, they urged caution if some counties are allowed to ease restrictions in the coming weeks, saying it wouldn't take much for spread to ramp up again.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in New Mexico from COVID-19 has increased over the past two weeks from 13.9 on Nov. 15 to 22.4 on Sunday.

The average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 1,331 to 1,932 on Sunday.

State health officials on Monday reported 28 new virus-related deaths and 1,684 newly confirmed infections.

Deadly Pursuit Could Lead To Murder Charges For Defendants - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who cause deadly crashes while fleeing police can face felony murder charges under certain circumstances.

The court's decision was announced Monday.

It came in a case in which two people were accused of stealing a van in 2017 and fleeing police at high speeds through residential neighborhoods.

The driver crashed into another vehicle, killing a mother and her teenage daughter. The court said aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer can serve as the underlying offense for felony murder. T

The case will be reevaluated by a state district court judge.

New Mexico Land Office Offers Online Christmas Tree Permits - Associated Press

The State Land Office is joining other land management agencies in New Mexico in offering online Christmas tree cutting permits.

The Land Office also is allowing people to get permits to gather sand for filling their luminarias, which are traditional holiday fixtures of candles inside paper bags weighted with sand.

Permit applications, maps, directions and other information is available on the agency's website.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says her office is pleased to offer the low-cost permits as New Mexicans honor two long-held holiday traditions.

Like other activities on state trust land, the tree cutting and sand gathering fees help support public schools.

There are seven areas around the state being made available for sand gathering. With a permit, up to 20 gallons of sand can be collected. State officials say that's enough to fill about 100 luminaria bags.

Christmas tree cutting with a permit will be allowed on trust land east of Black Lake and south of Angel Fire. A limit of one tree — no taller than 15 feet — is allowed per permit.

Permit applications and payments must be received no later than Dec. 16. They'll be valid through Dec. 25.

Navajo Nation Lawmakers Consider Extending Junk Food TaxFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Lawmakers on the Navajo Nation are considering a bill to extend a 2% sales tax on unhealthy food and beverages sold on the reservation.

The tribe approved the Healthy Diné Nation Act in November 2014 to tax food with minimal or no nutritional value. The tax expires this year unless lawmakers vote to extend it.

The bill refines what would be subject to the tax, and clarifies its administration and enforcement.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that the tax has generated more than $7.5 million over the past few years. It is meant to fund things like wellness centers and walking trails.

Public comments posted with the legislation support it. The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise wants casino buffets to be exempt from the tax.

Navajo Nation Finds 177 More COVID-19 Cases, 5 New Deaths Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is reporting more than 170 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths.

Navajo health officials announced Sunday a new tally of 177 newly confirmed virus cases, bringing the total to 16,427, including 27 delayed unreported cases. The death toll from COVID-19 on the reservation now stands at 653.

So far, 8,676 have recovered from COVID-19, and 157,860 COVID-19 tests have been administered.

Residents remain under a stay-at-home order, with an exception for essential workers and essential needs like food, medication and emergencies. Essential businesses also have been ordered to limit their hours to between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.