FRI: Governor Calls For More People To Wear Masks As COVID-19 Deaths Reach 600, + More

Jul 24, 2020

Governor Says New Mexico Still Lagging Behind In Mask Wearing - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says there are not enough people wearing masks.

She said during her latest briefing that she wants to see at least 80% or 90% of people wearing face coverings.

The state's mandate that everyone must wear a mask in public has been in effect since May 16 and the Democratic governor vowed more enforcement at the start of July.

But since then, New Mexico State Police officers have issued only one citation for a violation. Some local law enforcement agencies have said they have more pressing priorities.

The penalty for violating the mask order is a $100 fine.

With five more deaths on Friday, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state reached 601. Two were residents of long-term or acute care facilities in Bernalillo County.

The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in 43 such facilities over the last month.

A man in his 30s with underlying health conditions also died in San Juan County.

The state reported 317 additional cases, pushing the total to 18,475.

The Albuquerque Journal reported a projection by Los Alamos National Laboratory estimates the state would hit 700 deaths by Sept. 2.

Another estimate by the Institute of for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said that figure could be 775, but that could decline to 734 with universal use of masks.

This story has been corrected to reflect the person who died in San Juan County was a man.

Groups Push To Remove Proposed Funding For Nuclear Testing - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A defense spending bill pending in Congress includes an apology to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and other states affected by nuclear testing over the decades.

But communities downwind from the first atomic test in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, are still holding out for compensation for health effects that they say have been ongoing for generations due to fallout from the historic blast,  amid rumblings about the potential for the U.S. to resume nuclear testing.

So far, their pleas for Congress to extend and expand a federal radiation compensation program have gone unanswered. The program currently covers workers who became sick as a result of the radiation hazards of their jobs and those who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site.

Those excluded from the program include residents downwind of the Trinity Site in New Mexico, additional downwinders in Nevada, veterans who cleaned up radioactive waste in the Marshall Islands and others.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the New Mexico Democrat who advocated for the apology, continues to push for amendments to the radiation compensation program. His office recently convened a meeting among downwinders, uranium miners, tribal members, other advocates and staff in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

While the U.S. House has adopted language prohibiting spending on such an effort, a group of senators has included $10 million for testing preparation.

Details of the spending bill have yet to be hashed out, but the Union of Concerned Scientists, nuclear watchdogs and environmentalists are pushing for the funding to be eliminated. 

Navajo Nation Reports 50 More COVID-19 Cases, 1 More DeathAssociated Press

Navajo Nation officials are reporting 50 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death as the tribe prepares for another weekend lockdown.

The total of infected tribal members on the reservation stood at 8,734 with 432 known deaths as of Thursday. Health officials said 75,775 people have undergone testing and 6,481 have recovered from the virus.

The weekend lockdown, which includes the closing of businesses, will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and last until 5 a.m. Monday.

Residents of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have also been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public.  

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said officials are working on an order that would require residents who travel to areas known as hot spots for coronavirus infections to quarantine for 14 days when they return to the reservation.

Hospital CEO Sues For Wrongful Termination Amid PandemicAssociated Press

The former CEO of a rural hospital in northwestern New Mexico is alleging in a lawsuit that his contract was unfairly terminated in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Filed in federal court on Thursday, the lawsuit from David Conejo and his hospital management company takes aim at the board chairwoman and medical staff at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup.

Doctors and nurses at Rehoboth staged a public protest in May to criticize staffing levels and call for the ouster of Conejo.

The lawsuit seeks payment for damages to Conejo's reputation and loss of earnings. State Auditor Brian Colón is conducting a special audit of finances at Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital.

Rare Leopard Frog Found Beyond Its Known Range In Southwest - Associated Press

A rare frog has been found beyond its known range in the U.S. Southwest. A U.S. Forest Service volunteer recently photographed a Chiricahua leopard frog in an earthen stock tank near the town of Camp Verde in central Arizona.

The agency says biologists later confirmed that at least 10 of the frogs were living there. Biologists plan to visit the area to determine if there are more.

The aquatic frogs were thought to be only in eastern Arizona, western New Mexico and northern Mexico but historically were more widespread.

The frogs' numbers have declined because of habitat loss, disease and predators.

New Mexico Governor Opts For Online Start To The School Year - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is hitting the pause button on reopening public schools this fall, meaning classes will be virtual at least through Sept. 7.

State public education officials initially proposed a hybrid plan combining in-person classroom time with remote online learning.

But the governor said Thursday that the rates of spread and positivity for the coronavirus are just too high right now.

Districts representing more than 40% of the state's students already had requested a virtual start to the school year.

The governor says another 343 COVID-19 cases have been reported, marking the state's all-time daily high since the pandemic started.

The statewide case total now stands at 18,163, and officials are concerned that the seven-day average for positive cases has more than doubled in the last five weeks.

If things improve, the state plans to roll out its hybrid plan after the Labor Day holiday by bringing back the youngest students first, followed by middle schoolers and then high school students.

The goal, the governor said, is to have all students back in the classroom at some point with no hybrid schedules.

Survey: Latino Parents Concerned About Students Falling Behind During Remote Schooling- Associated Press 

A coalition of Latino advocacy groups on Wednesday released the results of a survey, showing that Latino parents have serious concerns about their children spending too much time away from school or not learning enough from on-line schooling.

More than 80% of the 480 parents who were queried in June said they were very concerned about their children falling behind, with math being the subject of greatest concern.

Many of the families said the lack of internet access was a problem in the spring after schools were forced to close and districts shifted to remote learning.

Native American parents and other advocacy groups have voiced similar concerns.

State officials indicated that federal coronavirus relief funding could help districts with their infrastructure needs and that more money could be freed up for broadband access. However, the governor acknowledged that education will be expensive in a COVID-19 environment and that those improvements won't come overnight.

New Mexico Deputies: Man Killed Following Fight Over Mask Associated Press

New Mexico authorities are investigating a deadly shooting at an auto shop after a man who refused to wear a mask tried to run over the shop owner's son and crashed into a vehicle before driving off.

An incident report written by Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies say as they were searching for the man, they received a call from the shop owner saying the man had returned and that his son had shot someone. Deputies found two men on the ground. One didn't have a pulse.

Albuquerque police have taken over the investigation. Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos declined to release more details, saying detectives were interviewing additional people.

New Mexico Forests Lift Campfire Bans As Monsoons Crank UpAssociated Press

Some New Mexico forests are rolling back bans on campfires as the summer rainy season sets in.

Officials with the Lincoln and Gila national forests cited the onset of monsoons as the reason for rescinding fire restrictions on the southern New Mexico forests. Still, forest managers are warning people that they still need to be careful and to extinguish campfires before leaving a campsite.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque say another round of showers and thunderstorms is likely for much of the state Thursday.

All of New Mexico is dealing with some form of drought, with the northern border and spots in eastern New Mexico faring the worst.

New Mexico AG To Review Shooting Death Of Mentally Ill WomanAssociated Press

New Mexico's attorney general is taking over the investigation of whether deputies should face charges in the shooting death of a mentally ill woman.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that Attorney General Hector Balderas said the family of Elisha Lucero asked him to take over the review.

Authorities responded to the family's home in July 2019 after a relative called 911 saying Lucero, 28, had hit her uncle. The relative told authorities Lucero was mentally ill.

Lucero later ran out screaming with a knife. In response, three deputies fired their weapons. She was shot 21 times.

A lawsuit filed by her family against the Bernalillo County Commission and Sheriff Manuel Gonzales was settled for $4 million in March.

A spokeswoman for 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office said a contract special prosecutor had been reviewing the case for the past several months and the office welcome Balderas taking over the case. Their office has nearly a dozen cases awaiting review and no funding for full-time, independent prosecutors.

2 US House Dems Seek COVID-19 Funds For Returning Workers Associated Press

Two U.S. House Democrats are seeking to extend federal unemployment assistance and benefits to those reentering the workforce during the pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada introduced Thursday the Back on Your Feet Act, which seeks to provide a one-time federal payment of $3,600 to residents returning to work.

Under the proposal, returning workers would receive the payment to help with higher costs of working during the pandemic and provide income until the first paycheck arrives.

Federal unemployment benefits would also be extended through January 31, 2021, for more than 30 million workers.

The legislation also would provide another $2 billion to help states process unemployment applications.

Torres Small said the bill will allow returning workers to use the extra money to pay for things like childcare.

The Las Cruces Democrats said the bill will help counties with high unemployment rates.

Man Shot By Police Dies, New Mexico Investigation Requested - Associated Press

The New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau has been asked by authorities in Deming to investigate the death of a man shot by police earlier this month. 

Police responded to a domestic disturbance in Deming on July 14. 

They say 28-year-old Julio Jaramillo stole a cellphone from a man at gunpoint and then hid behind a warehouse. 

Several police officers responded and told Jaramillo to drop the weapon. They say Jaramillo came out from behind the building, walked toward the officers, lifted his gun and started shooting. 

Police say the officers returned fire, striking Jaramillo. He was taken to a hospital and later died. 

None of the four officers involved were injured.  

Surge Of Federal Agents Leaves Many Questions UnansweredBy Michael Tarm, AP Legal Affairs Writer

President Donald Trump offered few details when he announced this week that the government will dispatch hundreds of extra federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight violent crime.

The absence of a clear, publicly available plan has left city leaders and federal agencies themselves left to speculate about exactly what is going to happen and when.

Among questions not yet fully answered is how many agents will come from which federal agencies.

The plan for Chicago and Albuquerque doesn't seem to include federal agents engaging protesters, as has happened in Portland, Oregon.

Trump said hundreds of agents will be drawn from the Justice Department, which includes the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Precise numbers were not provided. Attorney General Bill Barr suggested at one point that around 200 new agents could end up in Chicago.

For now, the plan for Chicago and Albuquerque does not seem to include federal agents engaging with protesters. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Barr both said the mission in Chicago and Albuquerque would differ from the mission in Portland.