FRI: New Mexicans Encouraged To Use Face Coverings, WIPP Nuclear Waste Repository Ramps Down, + More

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New Mexico Has Few Medical Masks To Spare As Virus SpreadsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

State officials say New Mexico's health care system has a limited statewide stock of about 44,000 snug-fitting N95 face masks that can protect medical workers from the coronavirus by filtering out small airborne particles.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases across New Mexico increased Thursday by 11% to 403, with seven deaths and about 34 people hospitalized.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the governor’s office said Thursday that top state health officials are strongly encouraging residents to use face coverings when they leave their houses.

However, they also said specially designed masks for medical workers should not be used by the general public to ensure adequate supplies.

New Mexico has about 2.4 million exam gloves, 70,500 medical gowns and 234,000 surgical masks that offer less protection from virus infections than N95 masks.

State officials provided the figures on protective equipment after The Associated Press requested details about the state's supplies.

New Mexico Sees Another Huge Spike In Unemployment Claims - By Russell Contreras And Morgan Lee, Associated Press

More than 28,000 New Mexico residents have applied for unemployment benefits. That’s over 50% more than the amount filed the previous week.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 28,182 people in the state applied for unemployment benefits last week compared to record setting 18,105 the week before. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

The numbers show the widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus appears to be continuing to inflict damage to the nation's economy.

The Labor Department said more than 6.6 million Americans applied for benefits last week, doubling a record set just one week earlier.

New Mexico's Workforce Solutions Department that oversees unemployment in a state of 2 million residents says phone lines were overwhelmed by more than a half-million calls in one day as the federal government prepared to expand unemployment coverage to independent contractors, the self-employed and gig-economy workers. It was too soon this week to process those claims.

Metropolitan Detention Center On Lockdown For Additional COVID-19 Testing KUNM News

The state’s largest jail has gone into lockdown while the Department of Health tests nearly 80 inmates for COVID-19.

Officials with the Metropolitan Detention Center said an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 is quarantined in a cell in a negative pressure room. Four other inmates are in quarantine.

Another 73 inmates have been placed in two separate housing units and are being tested. Lockdown means inmates may only leave their cells for showers and to make phone calls.

The total number of positive tests for COVID-19 in New Mexico rose to 403 on Thursday.

Cleanup Of US Nuclear Waste Takes Back Seat As Virus Spreads - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. government's efforts to clean up Cold War-era waste from nuclear research and bomb making at federal sites around the country has lumbered along for decades, often at a pace that watchdogs and other critics say threatens public health and the environment. 

Now, fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic is resulting in more challenges as the nation's only underground repository for nuclear waste finished ramping down operations Wednesday to keep workers safe. 

Shipments to the desert outpost will be limited for the foreseeable future while national laboratories and defense sites around the country have shifted to only those operations considered "mission critical."

Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant warned state regulators in a letter Tuesday that more time would be needed for inspections and audits and that work would be curtailed or shifts would be staggered to ensure workers keep their distance from one another.

Hotel That Hosted John Wayne To House Homeless Patients - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A western New Mexico hotel that once hosted John Wayne and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan will use one of its buildings to house homeless respiratory patients. 

The Gallup Independent reports El Rancho Hotel agreed this week to offer its space in the event health care workers needed places for critical patients affected by COVID-19. 

El Rancho Hotel officials say patients will be placed in a separate building located across the parking lot from the central hotel. 

Located on Route 66 near the Arizona state line, El Rancho Hotel played host to actors Reagan, Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy. 

New Mexico City Mayor Sworn In After Predecessor Indicted - Las Vegas Optic, Associated Press

The northern New Mexico city of Las Vegas has officially sworn in a new mayor whose predecessor resigned amid bribery charges.

The Las Vegas Optic reports Louie Trujillo took the oath of office Wednesday during a special ceremony that was live-streamed to the public. The ceremony was limited to five people due to order restrictions over the spread of COVID-19. 

Trujillo was elected during the March municipal election, when he received 57.4% of the votes. He replaces Tonita Gurule-Giron, who resigned in January two weeks after she was indicted on charges of bribery and accepting kickbacks.

Gurule-Giron was charged in December with six felonies related to abuse of power, bid-rigging, and offering and receiving bribes, prosecutors said. She has pleaded not guilty. 

US Judge Dismisses New Mexico's Immigration Lawsuit - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A U.S. judge has granted a motion to dismiss claims by New Mexico that immigration officials shirked their duties by quickly releasing thousands of mostly Central American migrants into communities after they crossed into the United States. 

New Mexico claimed in a 2019 lawsuit that the practice left communities to pick up the tab for housing and feeding the asylum-seekers until they moved on to find relatives or other hosts elsewhere in the U.S. 

The judge found that federal officials acted within their powers and discretion and that sovereign immunity protected the federal government from liability.

With US Border Work On Track, Rural Towns Fear Virus Spread - By Matthew Brown, Stephen Groves and Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Major construction projects are moving forward along both U.S. borders and raising fears that the influx of workers could spread the coronavirus.

Along the southern border, workers travel every day from camps in New Mexico to build President Donald Trump's border wall.

Residents, tribal leaders and state officials worry that the work could make problems worse in rural areas with little or no medical infrastructure capable of handling an outbreak.

Cities have borne the brunt of the virus so far in the U.S., but rural areas are expected to be hit, too.

That's a fear in tiny Columbus, New Mexico, where residents worry about border wall workers who often gather outside the town's few restaurants despite an order to stay home and keep away from others.

In the town of less than 1,500 people, about 30 construction workers are living in tightly packed trailers, residents say.

Others are staying at two small hotels while they put up bollard-style fencing along the scrub desert — a small piece of about 200 miles of barrier being built at the U.S.-Mexico border.