FRI: As COVID-19 Cases Pass 6,600 Officials Focus On Kids, + More

May 22, 2020

Health Officials Focus On Young People As COVID-19 Cases Pass 6,600Associated Press

State health officials say they are beginning to look more closely at whether younger people without symptoms are potentially spreading the coronavirus.

New Mexico on Friday reported 160 additional positive tests. The state now has more than 6,600 cases, and health officials say an increasing number of people who are 19 and younger have contracted COVID-19.

New Mexico reported an additional eight deaths Friday, bringing the total to 302. There are more than 200 people who are hospitalized.

The Albuquerque Journal reported children and teenagers make up about 13% of the state's positive cases, up from 7% a few weeks ago and about four times higher than the national average.

The state could have more cases involving children because other communities across the country are not testing the same cross-section of their population, health officials said.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Children are more likely than adults to show mild or no symptoms, officials said. Symptoms could include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any combination.

New Jobless Claims In New Mexico Hold SteadyAssociated Press

The latest federal labor statistics show New Mexico has processed more than 146,000 claims for unemployment since mid-March.

That represents about 18% of the total workforce in the state that's eligible for the unemployment insurance program.

The number of new applications submitted in New Mexico during the week ending May 16 showed almost no change from the number of applications submitted the previous week.

However, it still represented a dramatic increase from the same time last year as New Mexico and the rest of the world grapple with economic fallout resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of claims are expected to decrease in the coming weeks as New Mexico moves toward relaxing more restrictions on businesses in most parts of the state.

State officials have targeted June 1 for reopening gyms, salons and restaurants as long as New Mexico continues to show progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

More Coronavirus Testing Planned At New Mexico Meat PlantLas Cruces Sun News

Several dozen workers at a meat processing plant in southern New Mexico have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Las Cruces Sun News reports State reports health officials plan another round of testing at the facility next week. Illinois-based Stampede Meat says its processing facilities are cleaned and sanitized daily, employees are screened and they're instructed to wear protection that includes masks and face shields.

According to Stampede, 7.5% of the plant's employees tested positive in the first round. Of those, most were reportedly asymptomatic. The company said 90% of those first cases have recovered.

In the second round, less than 5% of the staff tested positive. The company said those workers were still recovering and would be re-tested and cleared by a medical professional before returning to work.

Lawsuit Targets Fines As New Mexico Virus Cases Near 6,500 Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico health officials are reporting 163 new coronavirus cases and 11 additional deaths.

The Health Department on Thursday said the statewide total of infections is nearing 6,500 while the death toll stands at 294.

The latest cases include 19 infections among state inmates who are being held at a lockup in Otero County, bringing the total there to 40. Dozens of federal inmates and immigration detainees also are infected.

State officials say progress has been made due to public health orders that have been in effect since March, but some business owners have filed a legal challenge over fines that have stemmed from the restrictions.

About a dozen business owners and companies are challenging the governor's authority to levy $5,000 fines for violating the public health orders.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the lawsuit names Lujan Grisham, Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea and Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel as defendants.

The Republican Party of New Mexico helped organize the litigation filed by Albuquerque attorney Carter Harrison IV on behalf of the businesses and their owners.

US To Grant More Time To Consider New Mexico Drilling Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says he'll extend the public comment period on a contested plan that will guide oil and gas drilling and other development in an area of New Mexico that includes a national park and locations important to Native American tribes.

A coalition of tribal leaders along with the state's congressional delegation, environmentalists and archaeologists had formally requested an extension weeks ago.

They've pointed to the disproportionate effect the coronavirus outbreak has had on the Navajo Nation and other Native American communities. Bernhardt posted on social media Thursday that he'll extend the comment period 120 days.

The deadline had been May 28. New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich said Thursday he's hopeful the extra time will result in meaningful consultation with tribes and ensure policymakers "get this right."

He called the area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park a precious landscape with irreplaceable resources.

New Mexico Picks New Homeland Security Chief - Associated Press

The chief of staff for the state's senior U.S. senator has been tapped to lead the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment of Bianca Ortiz Wertheim on Thursday to run an agency that oversees the state's response to emergencies and hazards. 

Before working for Sen. Tom Udall, Ortiz Wertheim served in various government positions within other Democratic administrations. 

She was director of cabinet affairs for former Gov. Bill Richardson and chief of staff for former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. 

Her husband, John Wertheim, was a previous chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

Ortiz Wertheim replaces Jackie Lindsey, who resigned in November.

Judge Rules Against Fort Sill Apache Casino In New Mexico -  Deming Headlight, Associated Press

A federal judge has ruled against the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma. The tribe has long sought to operate a casino in New Mexico. 

The Deming Headlight reports U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle upheld a decision by the National Indian Gaming Commission that the Fort Sill Apache was not eligible to game in the southwestern state. 

Fort Sill is a federally recognized tribe located in Oklahoma that has land at Akela Flats, located 18 miles east of Deming. 

Fort Sill tried to open a small casino on the land in 2008 after it was donated to the tribe in the 1990s. The casino was shut down quickly by the National Indian Gaming Commission and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ordered a state police blockade at the location where the Apache Homelands operates a diner, convenience store, and smoke shop.

Fort Still did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico praised the judge's decision.

Xcel Energy Erects First Turbines At New Mexico Wind Farm - Associated Press

The first few turbines that will make up Xcel Energy's Sagamore Wind Project in eastern New Mexico have been erected. 

Company officials said Thursday the construction crews have been able to stay on track and work safely over the past couple of months despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

They say adjustments have been made to ensure components from around the world will be delivered in time to have the wind farm operating by the end of the year. 

The $900 million wind farm will be capable of generating enough electricity to power 194,000 homes annually. It will create 30 full-time jobs.

Sheriff Accused Of Interfering In SWAT Standoff Is Arrested Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Authorities say a New Mexico sheriff suspected of showing up under the influence of alcohol to a SWAT standoff and trying to order officers away was arrested Thursday.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan initially refused to comply with the arrest and was taken from his office in handcuffs by Española police officers and Taos County deputies.

Court records show Lujan has been charged with resisting, evading or obstructing an officer, a felony. A criminal complaint says he smelled like alcohol and appeared to have trouble keeping his balance at the scene of the SWAT incident.

His attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 

US Lawmakers From Agricultural States Push For $1B In Aid - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Some New Mexico dairies have reported average monthly losses of more than a quarter-million dollars as fallout from the coronavirus mounts.

Ranchers have seen cattle prices plummet amid supply chain problems. And farmers are starting to worry about potential labor shortages when harvest time comes.

Congresswoman Xochitl Torres-Small is among a group of lawmakers from rural areas pushing legislation that calls for funneling as much as $1 billion in aid to states based on their contributions to regional and national food systems.

The Democrat says the southern half of the state alone accounts for $1.6 billion in agricultural revenue.

New Mexico Reports Year's First Human Case Of West Nile - Associated Press

New Mexico health officials say the state has its first human case of West Nile virus infection this year.

The Health Department reported Thursday that the patient is a San Juan County man in his 50s. He's recovering after being hospitalized. West Nile virus is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can sometimes be fatal.

The state has had West Nile cases every year since the virus was introduced to New Mexico in 2003. Last year, there were 40 cases, including four fatal cases.

In 2018, there were seven confirmed West Nile cases in the state, with one reported death.

Dark-Money Attack Ad Pastes Swastikas On House Candidate - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

It is unclear who is sponsoring incendiary new political attack ads against a former CIA operative who is a candidate for a northern New Mexico congressional seat.

The Washington, D.C.-based group behind the ads doesn't disclose donors and its only known activity is to denounce Valerie Plame as a "disgraced racist millionaire" in paid video spots on Facebook and Instagram in English and Spanish.

Plame has called the ads disgusting and says she has apologized and tried to atone for sharing on Twitter in 2017 an article with anti-Semitic expressions.

Ian Sugar, president of the Alliance to Combat Extremism Fund, said in an email that the independent political expenditure group is supported by people who want to combat extremism in politics and rebuild trust in democracy.

He declined to name sponsors of the organization, return a phone call or answer further questions.

The group's attack ads hound Plame for allegedly being embraced by white supremacists and use an image of the candidate with swastikas imposed over her eyes.

Jon Soltz, chairman of the politically progressive advocacy group for military veterans VoteVets, denounced the use of Nazi imagery and called for the ads to be taken down.

Plame's secret identity was exposed shortly after her diplomat husband disputed U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion.