FRI: Schools To Remain Closed For Rest Of Academic Year, + More

Mar 27, 2020

New Mexico Extends Classroom Shutdown Due To Coronavirus - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Public school students in New Mexico will not return to classrooms or athletic fields during the current academic year because of the coronavirus.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart made the announcement Friday, calling it a painful decision. He says students are likely to be graded for coursework completed at home on a pass-fail basis.

High school seniors will be able to graduate by demonstrating competency through a series of assignments and tests including a college entrance exam. A stay-at-home order is in effect across New Mexico with exceptions for essential tasks and businesses.

The number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico rose to 191 on Friday, including 27 new cases in Bernalillo County. There are 17 people who are hospitalized in the state due to the virus as well.

The governor on Friday ordered all air travelers arriving in the state to self-isolate for 14 days. 

The Department of Public Safety announced that cadets at the state law enforcement academy and state police recruits were being sent home Friday. Officials said training will continue once the public health emergency is over.

The state Motor Vehicle Division is closing field offices statewide as a health precaution. The state can process vehicle registration and driver's license renewals online but cannot issue some types of first-time licenses.

Privately operated offices for motor vehicle services closed earlier in the week.

Lt. Governor Says Law Enforcement Will Not Stop People To Ask About Work Status - KUNM

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales sought to reassure people Friday that people will not be stopped by law enforcement to ask where they are going or if they are essential workers.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued orders this week halting nonessential business activity that can't be done remotely in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking on Twitter, Morales said people are allowed to get essentials and take care of emergencies but that is important to remain at home if at all possible.

Morales said there may be people impersonating law enforcement who are stopping people to ask if they are essential workers. He urged people to report any such interactions to local law enforcement agencies or by going to www.newmexico.gov.

Morales said the state will succeed by cooperation, socially distancing and remaining home to stop the spread of the virus.

New Mexico reported COVID-19 cases had risen to 191 on Friday.

New Mexico Cancels National Tourism Campaign Amid Virus - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico is canceling its national tourism campaign and is halting related events as coronavirus restrictions have brought tourism in the state to a halt.

New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Jen Schroer said Friday the state's popular destinations have suffered because of the health-ordered restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Schroer warned that hotels and tourist hot spots will continue suffering until restrictions are lifted. She says hotels can only operate until to 50% capacity but can house more guests if they include health care workers. 

Since Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other governors began adopting restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus, attendance at many popular tourist destinations has dropped to nearly zero.

The state's largest airport, Sunport International in Albuquerque, has experienced a traffic reduction of 90%.

Lawmakers Wants Halt On Water Station Loading FeesAssociated Press

A state senator is urging authorities to stop charging customers without full indoor household plumbing for drinking water at a municipal filling station during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup said Thursday that waiving water loading station fees would ease economic hardships and ensure more people can wash their hands.

He also said that handling cash and change at the coin operated water station increases the risk of spreading the virus.

According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10% of households in McKinley County that encompass Gallup lack full plumbing — the highest rate outside of Alaska and one county in Arizona.

New Mexico Prepares For More Cases, Extended School ClosuresAssociated Press

The number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Mexico rose to 136 Thursday, a day after health officials confirmed the state's first COVID-19 related death.

The state Public Education Department also says an announcement regarding an extension to the school closure period is expected Friday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham first announced the school closure March 13, saying it would be in effect at least through April 3 and possibly longer, depending on conditions.

The governor on Thursday also formally requested that the U.S. Defense Department establish a staffed 248-bed U.S. Army combat support hospital in Albuquerque as a proactive measure to boost the state’s treatment capacity.

In Santa Fe County, the public defender's office closed Tuesday after one of its attorneys tested positive for the virus. The Santa Fe County jail already had stopped in-person visits, and the district court had switched to holding proceedings by phone.

New Mexico Sees Major Jump In Unemployment Claims Amid Virus - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

More than 17,000 New Mexico residents applied for unemployment benefits amid the widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The numbers released Thursday show the jump in New Mexico is more than 19 times the number of claims the previous week. The U.S. Department of Labor says New Mexico saw 17,187 people apply for unemployment benefits last week compared to 869 the week before.

State Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley says the state has never seen a spike like this before.

The latest numbers come as oil and gas prices continue to fall — hurting one of New Mexico's most robust industries. 

DA Held In Contempt For Skipping Hearing Amid COVID-19 Rules - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico district attorney says he was held in contempt of court after he skipped a hearing to follow COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports state District Judge Lisa Riley in Carlsbad held Quay County District Attorney Timothy Rose in contempt when he failed to show up to a case 250 miles away. 

Rose had agreed to take on a case in the 5th Judicial District, which prosecutors there were unable to accept because of a conflict of interest. But Riley denied two requests by Rose to attend the hearing by phone. She eventually held him in contempt and fined him $250.

Rose says the order conflicts with the Supreme Court's directives.

Authorities Squash Western New Mexico Prison Riot - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

Authorities say they have put down a prison riot in western New Mexico after a reported suicide of an inmate. 

The Gallup Independent reports inmates at Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Center in Grants rioted last week after they were placed on lockdown following the early morning death of an unidentified inmate.

Investigators say around 300 inmates became unruly and damaged the facility. 

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace says the inmates didn't want to be all cooped up together because of concerns over the coronavirus. 

The Department of Corrections used less-than-lethal bean bag rounds and paintball guns containing irritants to regain control. 

No injuries were reported.

State's Largest Jail Releases Some Inmates Amid Virus WorryAssociated Press

The largest municipal jail in New Mexico is releasing some inmates who are considered vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

Officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque say they identified several dozen inmates who meet federal health guidelines for medical risk when it comes to COVID-19. Of those, 46 will remain in custody since they're facing violent charges and are considered ineligible for release.

No inmates or jail staff have tested positive, but officials say two living areas have been vacated for quarantine if needed.

New Mexico reported its first death from the virus Thursday as cases climbed to at least 136.

New Mexico Reaches Settlement With Foster Youth, AdvocatesAssociated Press

New Mexico has reached a settlement with foster youth and their advocates that will allow for the creation of a trauma response system for all children in state custody.

The Human Services Department and state child welfare officials announced the agreement in a statement on Thursday. It calls for building a statewide community-based behavioral health system that all children and families will have access to and implementing training for staff, foster parents and others who serve children affected by trauma.

The settlement comes in a 2018 case that alleged youth in the New Mexico foster care system lacked safe, stable placements and behavioral health services.

Settlement Reached In Death Of Electrocuted Santa Fe WorkerAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The city of Santa Fe and the New Mexico Environment Department have reached a settlement involving the death of a city employee who was electrocuted in April 2019.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that the agreement happened about a year after Tobin Williams was electrocuted while trying to replace a light fixture at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. He had no training as an electrician.

No lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the family. The settlement says the city would pay $120,000, with more than half dedicated to training and safety improvements.

City spokeswoman Lilia Chacon declined comment until the settlement is official.

Fire Danger Level Elevated In Southwestern New MexicoAssociated Press

Forest Service officials say the threat of wildfires is rising in southwestern New Mexico.

Gila National Forest officials on Thursday cited strong winds, low humidity and the recent discovery of an abandoned campfire for a decision by fire managers to raise the forest's fire danger level to moderate, up from low.

Forest officials said campers and other visitors should practice fire safety. That includes taking steps such as never leaving a fire unattended, clearing flammable material from within at least 5 feet in all directions and making a fire only if a shovel and enough water to put out the fire are on hand.

Appeals Grow To Close US National Parks During Pandemic - By Ellen Knickmeyer, Felicia Fonseca and Travis Loller, Associated Press

The Trump administration is sticking with its crowd friendly waiver of entrance fees at national parks during the coronavirus outbreak.

That's even as managers at some parks try and fail to keep tens of thousands of hikers and tourists a safe distance apart and as communities appeal for shutdowns at some parks that are still open.

Communities around Grand Canyon National Park are among those asking for a shutdown, saying they fear more local spread of the coronavirus. The Interior Department says there's been no decision on that request.

The Trump administration agreed last week to close some parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Great Smoky Mountains, after requests from the park managers.

The Navajo Nation, which has 69 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, closed tribal parks, placed restrictions on businesses and issued a stay-at-home order for residents on the vast 27,000-square-mile reservation that extends into Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.