FRI: Governor Orders Flags To Half-Staff As COVID-19 Deaths Pass 1,000, + More

Oct 30, 2020

New Mexico Marks Grim Milestone With Over 1,000 Virus Deaths - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico has marked a grim milestone, as deaths related to the coronavirus have topped 1,000.

The statewide toll surpassed the mark with the addition of 13 more deaths, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. They included two women in their 20s and another in her 30s who all had underlying conditions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered flags to fly at half-staff starting Monday for a week of mourning. She called it "an unfathomable tragedy."

State health officials are urging people to stay home. Nationally, the U.S. is averaging just over 800 coronavirus deaths a day, up about 14% over the past two weeks.

The tally came as New Mexico struggles with increasing rates of spread and record daily case totals and hospitalizations. In just a week, the number of deaths in the state jumped by about 43%.

On the eve of Halloween, emergency alerts sounded on cellphones across the state: "EXTREME NM virus risk."

State health officials renewed their pleas that people adhere to the public health order, which calls for residents to stay home whenever possible, limit contact with others and wear face coverings, among other things.

State health officials also have limited indoor dining at restaurants to a fraction of normal capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As restaurants struggle for financial survival, the city of Santa Fe has extended all street- and sidewalk-dining permits for six months while elected leaders in Las Cruces renewed an emergency proclamation related to the pandemic and authorities in Albuquerque vowed to extend their public health order enforcement blitz at least through the weekend.

State officials and administrators from some of the largest hospital systems in New Mexico have been warning that the health care system could be overloaded if the trends continue.

They say their COVID-19 units are seeing between three and four times more patients than earlier this year when the state was experiencing its first surge.

Hospital officials in New Mexico said the demographics are different this time around, with more young people being admitted.

While nearly 60% of the deaths in New Mexico have been people over 70, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase noted during a briefing this week that all age groups have been setting new records with regard to daily case totals.

On Thursday, the state smashed a previous record, reporting 1,082 cases for the day.

While daily cases were still above 1,000 on Friday, hospitalizations reached another high of 334. State officials say it's the eighth consecutive day New Mexico has set a record for total COVID-19 hospitalizations.

State data also shows more than 17% of all COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized did not survive and about 10% of the deaths have involved people from 30 to 49, with most having underlying conditions.

Nationally, the number of new daily deaths is less than half of what it was in the spring. Experts say that's likely because people getting infected now are younger and hospitals are more prepared to handle cases. A better understanding of the disease along with new treatments also is helping doctors keep patients alive.

New Mexico To Practice In Nevada Due To Public Health Order – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The University of New Mexico football team will be moving its practices to Las Vegas, Nevada, as it prepares for an upcoming game.

UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nunez says the Lobos are relocating because training is currently restricted to groups of five at a time due the prevalence of COVID-19 in Albuquerque and mandates spelled out by a state public health order.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the team could end up staying through November as New Mexico is dealing with a surge of coronavirus cases. According to the team, there have been no positive tests among players and coaches this past week.

New Mexico's Nov. 14 game against Nevada is scheduled to be played in Albuquerque, but the Lobos could relocate that game to Reno, Nevada, as they did against San Jose State.

According to the team, there have been no positive coronavirus tests among players and coaches this past week.

Voting, Virus, Race Are Hot Topics In State High Court Races - By Morgan Lee and Ed White, Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court isn't the nation's only judicial battleground. The high courts in a number of states are on the ballot Tuesday in races that will determine whether Republicans or Democrats have a majority, and the stakes are high for both sides.

This year alone, state supreme courts have been thrust into the spotlight to decide politically charged cases over voting rights, race and governors' coronavirus orders.

In New Mexico, the supreme court has upheld aggressive pandemic health orders from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham under long-established laws that have rarely if ever been invoked. They limit public gatherings to five people or fewer, mandate face masks and imposes a self-quarantine after travel.

The rulings have infuriated Republican Party leaders and lawmakers who say local businesses are being ruined by the restrictions while online and big box stores prosper.

The disagreement is at the heart of races for two high court seats in which Democratic incumbents are campaigning to be retained.

For Many Latinos, Virus Deaths Loom Over Day Of The Dead - By Terry Tang, Associated Press

Day of the Dead will undoubtedly be harder this year for Latino families across the U.S. torn apart by coronavirus.

The annual Mexican tradition of reminiscing about departed loved ones is typically celebrated Nov. 1-2. Some in the Latino community are mourning more than one relative, which underscores the pandemic's disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Adding to the misery, people can't gather for the holiday because of the health risks.

Funeral homes and cemeteries are trying to keep spirits up by urging people to share photos online of altars they've made for their loved ones, which are a key part of the celebration.

Wolves Rebound, Lose Protections. Now Future Up To Voters - By Matthew Brown, James Anderson and Christina Larson, Associated Press

Wolves have repopulated the mountains and forests of the American West with remarkable speed since their reintroduction 25 years ago.

They've expanded to more than 300 packs in six states. Now voters in Colorado are poised to give the predators another boost in their rebound from extinction in the region last century.

A Nov. 3 ballot initiative seeks to reintroduce them to the western half of the state, where cattle ranchers and hunting guides see the return of wolves as a threat.

The Colorado effort, if successful, could fill a significant gap in the species' historical range,  creating a bridge between the Northern Rockies gray wolves and  a small Mexican gray wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Trump administration on Thursday stripped wolves of government protections across most of the U.S. That puts their future in the hands of state wildlife agencies.


Hospital Officer Says New Mexico At Pivotal Point With Virus - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The chief medical officer for the largest hospital system in New Mexico says the state is at a pivotal point involving the coronavirus.

Dr. Jason Mitchell with Presbyterian Healthcare Services says the data is clear that the state stands to face severe pressure on its health care system if the spread of COVID-19 continues at its current rate.

New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began, with state officials saying the number of people in hospital beds due to a COVID-19 infection has increased more than 50% in just seven days.

The number of deaths also are on the rise as daily case counts have increased more than 15% in the past seven days compared to the previous week. In all, nearly 1,000 people have died in New Mexico and Thursday's 1,082 confirmed infections smashed a record that was set just days ago.

Mitchell warned that by December, equipment like ventilators would have to be shared and hospitals would have to set up tents in parking lots to make room for patients.

New Mexico's top health officials and hospital administrators are concerned that people are not following the state's public health order, which calls for residents to stay at home as much as possible and avoid contact with other people. They are pleading with people to find other ways to celebrate Halloween rather than letting their children go door to door in search for treats.

The hospital officials also stressed the state mandate for mask wearing. It's the focus of a new public service campaign launched by Presbyterian that features ads showing people wearing face coverings and a call to protect moms, dads, grandparents and others by "masking up."

GOP Lawsuit Over Ballot Drop Boxes Dismissed Associated Press

A lawsuit by the New Mexico Republican Party was dismissed Thursday after security concerns were addressed at drop boxes for absentee ballots in Guadalupe and Taos counties.

GOP officials used the lawsuit to insist that drop-off boxes for ballots be supervised or kept under video surveillance at all times.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said more than 660,000 votes had been cast as of Thursday morning, closing in the 2008 high mark for participation of about 833,000.

In-person early voting concludes Saturday, before polling locations open again on Election Day.

The independent election monitoring group Common Cause has voiced concerns about the presence of pro-Trump vehicle caravans outside polling locations in Albuquerque.

Republican Party officials say a member of the Democratic Party in Alamogordo has been striking up uncomfortable and confrontational conversations with voters outside polling locations.

Toulouse Oliver said election officials and law enforcement agencies are on alert for acts of interference or intimidation at the polls.

Donald Trump lost New Mexico in 2016 by 8 percentage points to Democrat Hillary Clinton, with 9% of ballots going to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former governor of the state.

New Mexico is picking a new U.S. senator to succeed Democrat Tom Udall as he retires. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is vying for the seat against former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.

Republican Alexis Johnson is vying with Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez for the 3rd Congressional District seat to succeed Luján.

A rematch is underway in a congressional swing district along the border with Mexico, where first-term U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is defending her seat against Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell.

New Mexico Offers Drought Sessions As Dry Conditions Persist - Associated Press

The record-breaking winter storm brought much needed precipitation to most of New Mexico this week. But forecasters say drought conditions are expected to persist at least through February as the odds are leaning toward a drier than normal winter. 

New Mexico State University will be hosting a series of virtual sessions for farmers and ranchers on drought management and the water outlook starting next week. 

The first will focus on southern New Mexico and another is planned for the north the following week. 

The latest drought map shows about two-thirds of the state are classified as being in extreme or exceptional drought.

Navajo Nation Accuses Farmers Of Illegally Growing Hemp  - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is suing nearly three dozen people, accusing them of illegally growing hemp or marijuana on the reservation. 

The lawsuit filed earlier this week in the Shiprock District Court in northwestern New Mexico says the operations are contaminating the tribe's water, land and other natural resources. 

It's the second such lawsuit the tribe's Department of Justice has filed this year. 

In June, the department sued Dineh Benally, a former Navajo presidential candidate who campaigned on the creation of widespread hemp farming on the reservation. The tribal court recently granted a request to keep Benally from growing or cultivating hemp, at least temporarily, while attorneys argue over the merits of the case.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul said despite the injunction, individual farmers around Shiprock are still growing, harvesting and transporting hemp or marijuana.

The tribe does not have a regulatory system for industrial hemp.

No COVID-19 Deaths For 9th Time In 10 Days On Navajo Nation - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 130 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but no deaths for the ninth time in the last 10 days. 

The latest figures bring the total number of cases on the reservation to 11,602 including 10 delayed reported cases. The known death toll remains at 575. 

Tribal health officials say 124,109 Navajo people have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,528 have recovered. 

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

Tribal President Jonathan Nez says the Navajo Department of Health is now warning the public about the possibility of community spread of COVID-19.

Clint Eastwood To Direct 'Cry Macho' In New MexicoAssociated Press

Warner Bros. has announced production of a new Clint Eastwood film is set to take place in New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the 90-year-old Oscar winner will direct and star in the film "Cry Macho." No other cast member has been announced.

The casting agency said production is scheduled from Nov. 4 through Dec. 16 in the Albuquerque area. The film is based on the book of the same name by Richard Nash.

Eastwood will play a one-time rodeo star and horse breeder in 1978 who takes a job from a former boss to bring the man's young son home. The film follows their journey from rural Mexico on their way back to Texas.

Eastwood was last in New Mexico in 2018 with the production of "The Mule." The Motion Picture Association of America said the production filmed for six days in the Las Cruces area, spending about $1.3 million locally.

Extras casting is currently underway for the project.