FRI: Older Students To Continue Remote Learning, Biden Taps Haaland As Interior Secretary, + More

Dec 18, 2020

Older Students To Continue Remote Learning In New Mexico - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Middle and high school students will learn remotely indefinitely in New Mexico while the freeze on limited K-3 and special education programs will end sooner in January than education officials previously said.

The minority of elementary schools that have opened hybrid learning programs can resume on Jan. 18. K-3 and special education students can return to a 5:1 student-teacher ratio earlier that month.

In back-to-back presentations to the Legislature and members of the media Friday, the Public Education Department says it is engaging more absentee students and accounting for more of the 12,000 students it had reported as  “missing” from public school rolls.

Around 7,000 have been identified by cross-checking lists of students who switched to homeschooling, or to out-of-state or private schools were more in-person learning is offered. A small number have left school altogether.

Legislators are raising concerns that some high school students are working long hours to provide for their families.

Education officials are trying to quell the economic fallout from the pandemic by connecting families to social services.

Many child care facilities have shut down or reduced capacity, while child care subsidies have been erratic. Falling household incomes have pushed some children to leave school to make money.

New Mexico Tosses 75 Vaccine Doses Over Temperature Issues Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico say the state has discarded a 75-dose shipment of the new COVID-19 vaccine this week after a digital device showed it overheated during transportation to a hospital.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that a temperature-tracking device may have malfunctioned but state officials threw out the doses to be safe. The problem appears to be isolated.

Pfizer had already delivered the doses to New Mexico, and temperature problems arose during transportation from a state Department of Health warehouse to Union County General Hospital in Clayton.

Officials say a new shipment was sent Wednesday to the hospital.

Officials on Friday reported 1,463 new COVID-19 cases and 33 additional deaths.

There have been 127,500 cases in New Mexico since the pandemic began and 2,128 deaths.

Agency Says More Must Be Done To Protect Colorado River From Drought - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

A set of guidelines for managing the Colorado River helped seven Western states through a dry spell.

But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it's not enough to keep key reservoirs from plummeting amid persistent drought and climate change.

Millions of people in seven states and Mexico rely on the river for drinking water and growing crops. The bureau was tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of the 2007 guidelines that give the states an idea of how much water to expect each year.

It released a report Friday saying stronger measures are needed in the future. States, tribes and others will use the report to start negotiating what will replace the guidelines in 2026.

Officials in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada told the Interior Department on Thursday that they have started talking about what comes next.

In comments before the report was finalized, Native American tribes said they largely were left out of the discussions that led to the guidelines and want a bigger role in the next round of talks, with recognition of their sovereign status. They hold the rights to 3.4 million acre-feet of water annually in the Colorado River basin.

Not all tribes, including the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in northwestern Arizona, have secured the legal right to the water they claim in the basin.

Albuquerque To Consider Smaller Emergency Homeless Shelters Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

City officials in New Mexico have scrapped a plan to build one large 300-bed homeless shelter and are now considering a series of smaller facilities with at least 100 beds each throughout the community.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Mayor Tim Keller did not identify on Thursday how many emergency shelter beds would be included in one of the locations it is attempting to buy.

Keller said the plan was "fluid" because the city has not yet purchased the former Lovelace hospital in Albuquerque.

Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said a smaller shelter could include between 100 and 150 beds of emergency shelter.

Officials said the size and scope of the shelter component of the facility is likely to be a source of contention.

City Councilor Pat Davis said he believes current zoning would restrict the property to 30 non-medical shelter beds and limit its community impact. However, the city planning department has said the current zoning for the Gibson site does not have a bed capacity.

Davis said he wants Keller's administration to conduct an "honest evaluation" of resources to determine how many people could be helped at the facility before seeking conditional use approval. The zoning allows for conditional use as an overnight shelter.

Officials have said the city is expecting a population count for people living on the street in early 2021, but believes they are currently providing emergency shelter to more people than ever before with more than 700 across multiple properties.

In Historic Pick, Biden Taps Haaland As Interior Secretary - By Ellen Knickmeyer Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden has picked New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary. 

The historic pick Thursday would make Haaland the first Native American to lead the powerful federal agency, which has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for generations. 

If confirmed by the Senate, the first-term congresswoman would also be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. 

Tribal leaders and activists around the country, along with many Democratic figures, have urged Biden for weeks to choose Haaland to lead the Department of Interior. 

Haaland, 60, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and, as she likes to say, a 35th-generation resident of New Mexico. The role of interior secretary would put her in charge of an agency that has tremendous sway not only over the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes, but also over much of the nation's vast public lands, waterways, wildlife, national parks and mineral wealth.

Haaland promised Thursday to "be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land."

Biden plans to introduce Haaland — and other picks for his Cabinet — at an event Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.

Her selection breaks a 245-year record of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the top federal official over American Indian affairs. 

The federal government often worked to dispossess Native Americans of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture.

New Mexico Sees New Daily Record In COVID-Related Deaths Associated Press

New Mexico had a record-setting 48 daily deaths linked to the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, as the state delivers economic relief payments to the unemployed and small businesses.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news conference that she is concerned that daily deaths could grow even higher over the year-end holidays. The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 is now 2,097.

State health officials confirmed that the state has received and distributed 17,550 vaccine doses since the federal approval of a vaccine from drugmaker Pfizer and German pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

The vast majority of those doses are going to health workers. The state expects to receive a new shipment of Pfizer vaccines next week.

Lujan Grisham provided an update on the $320 million economic relief package approved in late November by the governor and lawmakers.

Direct payments of $1,200 have gone out to 120,000 people as a supplement to unemployment insurance.

Inmates Sue New Mexico Prison Over Lack Of Virus Safeguards Associated Press

More than 50 inmates have sued the Penitentiary of New Mexico claiming the facility near Santa Fe did not protect its inmates from the coronavirus.

The New Mexico Supreme Court was asked to intervene after 56 inmates submitted a handwritten petition alleging safety regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were too lax and caused an outbreak in late October.

The lawsuit said prison officials did not conduct enough tests, did not separate inmates from those possibly infected and continued to have crews work outside in violation of state prison guidelines.

The New Mexico Corrections Department had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit asks that the state corrections secretary enforce coronavirus guidelines, reform internal prison practices, provide proper medical care and release eligible inmates to community detention centers to reduce overcrowding. The lawsuit also requests monetary damages.

Christopher Martinez, an inmate who wrote the petition, said in the lawsuit that an outside employee who showed COVID-19 symptoms was repeatedly allowed into a prison kitchen Oct. 23 despite being continuously asked to leave.

Martinez said eight people tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after and more than 45 inmates tested positive by early November. The facility had 141 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March, the lawsuit said.

Vaccines Reach COVID-Ravaged Indigenous Communities - By Morgan Lee And Carla K. Johnson, Associated Press

The first doses of the coronavirus vaccine are arriving at Native American communities that have been disproportionately sickened and killed by the pandemic.

The communities around the U.S. have been hit hard despite curfews, roadblocks and the suspension of business including casinos and artisanal trading posts.

Vaccinations began Tuesday for health workers at clinics across the Navajo and Hopi nations in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, where 3,900 doses are being delivered to clinics.

COVID-19 has roamed relentlessly among the Navajo Nation's multi-generational rural households. Navajo health officials have confirmed 20,000 coronavirus cases across the reservation and at least 727 deaths since the pandemic began.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a statement called the vaccination delivery effort "a blessing for all of our people, including the doctors, nurses, and many other health care warriors."

Three Indigenous pueblos in New Mexico with populations as small as 250 are getting doses of the vaccine through trusted relationships with state health officials.

At Acoma Pueblo, the first round of shots Wednesday went to health care personnel, the elderly and workers on the front lines of food distribution and mental health visits to tribal members living in self-imposed isolation to protect against infection.

The pueblo has funneled millions of dollars in federal relief toward its lockdown strategy for enduring the COVID-19 pandemic — closing its casino, installing 24-hour road blocks and stepping up food deliveries and virus contact tracing among homebound residents.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said there have been 16 virus-related deaths at the pueblo of about 3,000 residents.

Vallo said Acoma Pueblo leaders doubted the local health care unit overseen by Indian Health Service would have enough medical personnel to administer the vaccine because of a recent reorganization that reduced local health services.

Navajo Nation Reports 287 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death – Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 287 new COVID-19 cases and one new related death.

In all, the tribe now has reported 20,395 coronavirus cases resulting in 732 deaths since the pandemic began.

Health officials said more than 186,000 people on the reservation have been tested and nearly 11,000 have recovered from COVID-19.

Navajo Department of Health officials said 77 communities on the reservation still have uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.

Tribal officials have said nearly all intensive care unit beds on the reservation are being used as COVID-19 cases surge.

The Navajo Nation remains in a three-week lockdown that requires all residents to remain home at all times with the exception of essential workers that are required to report to work, cases of emergencies, and to obtain essential items such as food, water and medicine.

On Thursday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer distributed food packages at Birdsprings Chapter and Indian Wells Chapter.

States Making Bold New Legal Claims In 2 Google Lawsuits - By Marcy Gordon And Colleen Slevin Associated Press

As a wave of antitrust actions surges against Google and Facebook, states in two lawsuits are stretching beyond the cases made by federal competition enforcers to level bold new claims. 

States are taking new legal gambits as they clamor to join the widening siege against the two once seemingly untouchable behemoths. 

The latest case came as dozens of states, including New Mexico, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, alleging that the search giant exercises an illegal monopoly over the online search market, hurting consumers and advertisers. It was the third antitrust salvo to slam Google in the past two months.

The U.S. Justice Department and attorneys general from across the country are weighing in with different visions of how they believe the company is abusing its immense power in ways that harm other businesses, innovation and even consumers who find its services indispensable.

The new lawsuit announced by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser echoes the allegations leveled earlier by the Justice Department against Google's conduct in the search market. But it goes beyond them and adds important new wrinkles: It also seeks to stop Google from becoming dominant in the latest generation of technology, such as voice-assistant devices and internet-connected cars. 

And, it claims, the company discriminates against specialized search providers that offer travel, home repair and entertainment services, and denies access to its search-advertising management tool to competitors like Bing.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington by the attorneys general of 35 states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

At Least 7 Mexican Wolf Pups Cross-Fostered Into Wild Packs - Associated Press

Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say at least seven Mexican wolf pups have successfully cross-fostered into wild packs since last spring. 

Members of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan cross-fostered 20 genetically diverse wolf pups from captive facilities into litters of wild wolf packs. 

The IFT reports that one of two pups cross-fostered from the Phoenix Zoo to the Iron Creek pack in New Mexico was caught and radio-collared plus one of two pups cross-fostered from the Endangered Wolf Center to the San Mateo pack in New Mexico.

Also caught and collared were three of four pups cross-fostered from the Sedgwick County Zoo to the Hoodoo pack in Arizona and one of four pups cross-fostered from the Endangered Wolf Center to the Dark Canyon pack in New Mexico.

One of three pups cross-fostered from the Endangered Wolf Center to the Elk Horn pack in Arizona that was caught and collared was found dead this month. 

In 2019, the IFT captured and collared two of the 12 pups cross-fostered into the wild.