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SAT: Navajo Nation COVID Reports 38 COVID Cases As Council Seeks Expanded Vaccine Mandate, + More

Steven Baltakatei Sandoval
Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
Navajo Nation Council Chambers

  Albuquerque Purchasing Bernalillo County's Share Of BuildingAssociated Press

Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque have long shared a large government building in downtown Albuquerque but no more.

The city is about to finalize its purchase of the Albuquerque Government Center and the county has moved out to a new facility, enabling the city to consolidate departments in the building that the two governments formerly shared, city officials announced Friday.

The city is paying the county $5 million for the county's share of the building, which the two governments had jointly owned since its construction. The city plans to spend an additional $5.5 million in renovations so the building can house additional workers, a city statement said.

The city has added exterior lights to the building's east face that will have the ability to change colors and that a "City Hall" will be mounted above the top floor, the statement said.

Navajo Nation Reports 38 New COVID-19 Cases, No New DeathsAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation reported 38 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Friday and no new deaths.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said the daily increase in cases is in line with other places around the country. He urged residents of the vast reservation that extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona to limit travel, wear a mask and social distance.

"We have to be diligent and continue to follow the guidelines and protocols provided by the CDC and our public health experts," he said in a statement.

The new cases bring the total on the reservation to 32,469 since the pandemic began, according to tribal health officials. The death toll remains at 1,400.

Nez recently issued an order that requires all executive branch employees to be fully vaccinated by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The Navajo Nation Council approved a bill this week to extend that requirement to all tribal government employees, and to urge schools, businesses and other entities that operate on the reservation to adopt vaccine mandates, the Farmington Daily Times reported. It is awaiting action by Nez.

Holloman Air Force Base To Take In Afghan RefugeesAssociated Press

Holloman Air Force Base is among several military installations that will take in Afghan refugees, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Friday.

The base near Alamogordo joins others in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey that temporarily will provide housing, along with medical and other support for up to 50,000 refugees, their families and other vulnerable Afghans, said Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby.

Refugees will undergo medical screening, including testing for the coronavirus, before arriving at the military installations. They are coming to the U.S. under the Special Immigrant Visa program.

"Those coming to New Mexico have endured a long and difficult journey, and I'm glad our state will serve as a safe refuge," said U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

The Defense Department didn't say how many refugees would be sent to Holloman or when they would arrive.

The Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrew support to the Afghan military. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been left the country. President Joe Biden has set Aug. 31 as the deadline to complete the U.S.-led evacuation.

Widower's Death Extends Mourning Tied To El Paso Massacre - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A man who gained worldwide sympathy and support after his wifewas killed in a mass shooting in the Texas border city of El Paso was remembered Friday as kind and thoughtful — and haunted by the loss of the woman he loved.

A few dozen people attended the memorial services for Antonio Basco, 63, who died Aug. 14 , just over two years after his wife, Margie Reckard, was fatally shot along with 22 other people by a lone gunman who authorities say targeted Latinos in an attack that stunned the U.S. and Mexico.

Reckard's August 2019 funeral drew thousands of people from as far away as Arizona and California and across the border in Mexico, after Basco announced that he was alone with almost no family left and invited the world to join him in remembering his companion of 22 years. Few in attendance had ever met Reckard.

Flowers poured in, and an SUV was donated to Basco, who made a modest living at washing cars and other odd jobs. The day of his wife's funeral, a crowd of strangers stood in a line that wrapped around the block to pay their respects.

Basco — a wiry, weathered man — embraced one visitor after another with open arms for several hours.

It was a raw and loving outpouring of emotion at the 22nd funeral following the attack. A final victim would die of his injuries nine months later.

Friday's funeral amid a resurgent pandemic drew a trickle of visitors to a cavernous chapel. They included a hospice worker who cared for Basco in his final days and a retired Army veteran who liked Basco without ever meeting him.

Several were linked to Basco through the tragedy of his wife's death.

Jose Luis Ozuna, a local retiree, said he and his wife met Basco at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting and that Basco made an impression. Ozuna said Basco always put others ahead of himself.

So the last time Ozuna saw Basco, who was in tears as he struggled to cash a $300 check without an ID, Ozuna said he cosigned the withdrawal.

"We had a real good bond. He was a very loving kind of person," Ozuna said. "We lost track of him because he lost his phone."

Adria Gonzalez, an El Paso native who was inside the Walmart during the attack, said she saw Basco deteriorate mentally and physically in the months after his wife's funeral, amid struggles with alcohol.

Basco was arrested and jailed in late 2019 for driving under the influence.

"He said he missed his wife," Gonzalez said, "and he wasn't the same."

Judith Quinones, the hospice worker, said Basco was visited regularly by friends as his health failed but he couldn't get over the loneliness he felt without his wife.

"He wished his wife wasn't dead. He didn't want to die this way," Quinones said.

Basco passed away after a months-long struggle with cancer after a late diagnosis, according to Roberto Sanchez, a local lawyer handling his estate.

Sanchez described Basco as a wanderer who was born and raised in Louisiana before he set out on an unmapped journey.

"I think I'd probably call him the Jack Kerouac of nowadays," said Sanchez, referring to the beatnik author who wrote the classic road trip novel "On the Road." "He would go from city to city looking for employment. When he found the love of his life, that's when he made El Paso his home."

Pastor Jackie Johnson called Basco a free spirit and belted out a spiritual: "There will be no more weeping and no more wailing."

"He didn't let anybody tell him how he could move or where he could move, but he was a free spirit who respected people," Johnson said.

Basco lived to see the dedication of a permanent memorialto the 2019 shooting victims — a plaque and metal tower evoking a candle that stands outside the store where the attack occurred.

The man accused of carrying out the attack, Patrick Wood Crusius, faces state capital murder charges and more than 90 federal hate-crime and firearms counts.

The shooting happened on a busy weekend day at a Walmart that is typically popular with shoppers from Mexico and the U.S.

Authorities say Crusius aimed to scare Latinos into leaving the United States, driving from his home near Dallas to target Mexicans after posting a racist screed online. Crusius has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers said their client has been diagnosed with mental disabilities.

New Mexico Flush With Cash As Revenues Climb, Oil Recovers - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico is flush with cash due to a quick recovery of oil and gas markets and higher than expected gross receipts tax revenues as consumers spend federal stimulus checks and tap into other recovery aid, state finance officials and legislative analysts said.

The officials briefed a key panel of state lawmakers on Friday. They said while revenues are expected to hit record levels for the next fiscal year, the pandemic remains a risk factor that still has the potential to derail economic recovery if cases continue to surge or shutdowns are imposed again.

While widespread shutdowns are not likely, the forecast shows what analysts described as a significant upward revision in recurring revenues for the current fiscal year — an increase of more than $632 million from estimates made just six months ago. Nearly $1.4 billion in new money is expected for the 2023 fiscal year, marking growth of nearly 19%.

That means lawmakers will have more money than ever before to spend on education, roads, public safety and other government programs. It also means more money is expected to be funneled into the state's permanent endowments.

Some lawmakers warned that the federal recovery aid won't be around forever and urged fellow members of the Legislative Finance Committee to continue building up the state's reserves.

The favorable forecast also is fueled by growth in high- and mid-wage employmentin the first half of 2021. As a result, officials said, total wages and salaries in the state neared pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter, and total personal income in New Mexico reached record heights during the pandemic and continues to grow.

But low-wage jobs have yet to bounce back, said Stephanie Schardin Clarke, head of the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

"So there's been a redistribution happening here over the pandemic," she said, "and as policymakers we're hearing that revenues are way up, but I just want to emphasize that there are still deep job losses and those who probably didn't have savings at the onset of the pandemic are the same ones who may not have regained their job yet."

Officials with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration pointed to two independent economic forecasts that warned it could be the end of 2026 before New Mexico returns to pre-pandemic employment levels. The state has recovered about 44% of the jobs that were lost at the start of the pandemic, but jobless rates in the state remain above national levels.

As for the contributions of oil and gas, Dawn Iglesias, the committee's chief economist, noted that New Mexico is now the second largest producer in the U.S. and is the only top producing state so far to have recovered to above pre-pandemic production levels.

New Mexico in April reached a record level of oil production with more than 1.2 million barrels a day. Natural gas production hit a record of 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day in May.

"Together for oil and natural gas, these higher prices and higher production levels are really resulting in those very strong severance tax and federal royalty collections," Iglesias said. "But again, those strong expectations are highly dependent on the oil and gas markets and where those prices actually end up coming in over the year and of course those can be volatile."