FRI: State Loosens Capacity Restrictions For Churches And Retailers, + More

May 15, 2020

State Updates Orders To Expand Capacity In Churches, Retailers – Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham eased some capacity restrictions on churches and retailers Friday even as the state reported 164 new positive COVID-19 cases.

Houses of worship can reopen this weekend at 25% capacity, rather than the 10% announced earlier this week. All retailers can also operate at that level as well. The Albuquerque Journal reported salons, gyms, theaters and dine-in restaurants will remained closed, however.

Also three counties in northwest New Mexico with a surge in cases are not included in those loosened restrictions.

There are now 5,662 positive cases in New Mexico and 11 more people died, bringing the total to 253. There are 223 people hospitalized, of which 49 are on ventilators.

Native Americans make up nearly 58% of cases and Hispanics and Latinos make up nearly 22% according to a state data dashboard.

The Department of Health also reported 74 cases among people held by federal agencies in four detention facilities, including 40 at the Otero County Process Center.

The virus continues to spread in congregate living facilities with Department of Health officials reporting there is at least one case among staff and/or residents in 31 such centers.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the state reached the target for mid-May of one person spreading the disease to 1.15 others. But he also said hospitals designated as hubs for COVID-19 patients have reached full capacity in their intensive care units.

Under orders released earlier this week, all residents must wear face coverings when going out in public unless they’re eating, drinking or exercising. The governor announced a contest for mask design to drum up more support for the order.

Jobless Claims Decline As New Mexico Prepares For ReopeningAssociated Press, KUNM

Fewer people filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending May 9, and officials are hopeful that number will decline even more as New Mexico businesses prepare for the relaxing of restrictions this weekend.

Numbers from the federal government show jobless claims dropped by about 35% from the previous week. In all, the state has processed more than 139,000 claims since mid-March.

The state reported 164 new COVID-19 cases Friday bringing the total to 5,662. There were 11 new deaths. That brings the total to 253.

Aside from retailers, officials with New Mexico's largest Catholic diocese say the suspension of publicly attended Mass is being lifted but attendance will be limited.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham updated her public orders Friday that increases how many people can be in retail outlets and houses of worship. They can now operate at 25% capacity this weekend, rather than 10%.

Masks, social distancing and increased cleaning also will be mandatory.

Navajo Nation Residents To Be Under Strictest Lockdown Yet - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Residents of the Navajo Nation will be under the strictest weekend lockdown yet. Grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses will be closed starting Friday night.

Essential workers also are being told to stay home until Monday around dawn. A frustrated Navajo Nation president made the announcement after a spike in deaths that he attributed to shifting traffic patterns in New Mexico.

As of Thursday, the tribe reported 127 deaths and 3,632 positive cases since it first began tracking the figures. Tribal officials say more than 500 people have recovered.

The Navajo Nation has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Native American reservation.


COVID Cases Surpass 5,500 in New Mexico with 11 More Deaths - Associated Press, KUNM News 

The state has confirmed 242 deaths from COVID-19 and more-than 5500 infections statewide, while health officials estimate that current coronavirus infections are likely much higher because many people have not been tested.

The latest numbers show more than one-third of the new cases, and more than half of the 11 deaths reported yesterday, were from McKinley County. Those who died ranged in age from their 20s into their 100s. 

209 individuals are currently hospitalized with the virus. 1,576 people have reportedly recovered from COVID-19 in New Mexico.

Governor Says New Mexico Is Short On Virus-Tracing Personnel - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state is woefully short of professionals devoted to contact tracing aimed at alerting people who are exposed unknowingly to the coronavirus.

The state has about 100 workers devoted to tracing exposure to the disease through interviews with people who have tested positive, when it needs at least 670 professionals.

The state last month embarked on a contact-tracing pilot program but little has been said publicly about the effort. The congressional delegation says New Mexico is in line for more than $77 million in federal funding for testing and contact tracing.

The governor said the state is contracting with a company named Accenture to improve its capabilities for tracing possible exposure to COVID-19 as the state prepares to lighten restrictions on many nonessential businesses.

State Ramps Up Testing, Unveils Map Showing Workplace InvestigationsAssociated Press, KUNM

New Mexico continues to ramp up testing, with total tests now exceeding 115,000 in the state with 2.1 million residents.

Testing was offered this week to the state's entire public and private workforce for any reason, and officials are encouraging multiple tests for people who fear exposure or sense symptoms.

State officials on Thursday also unveiled a new map that shows workplaces that have been investigated on COVID-19 related matters by the state's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau. It includes information about the business, complaints received by the state and responses received from the business during the investigation.

From March 6 to May 8, the bureau received over 200 complaints — twice the number normally received in a two-month period. Complaints range from access to proper personal protective equipment to alleged violations of the state's emergency public health orders.

Residents In Village Of Chama Ordered To Boil Water - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The northern New Mexico village of Chama has been placed on a water boiling order. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the order came after investigators found the Chama plant's two huge filtering tanks weren't functioning correctly, producing only 36% of the water required. 

The primary malfunction came from the layers of sand and coal that filter all incoming water. 

Investigators say documents detailing daily operations and a schedule of required maintenance were missing. 

Essential testing supplies were either buried in storage closets or nowhere to be found. 

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of consumable water has had a sizable impact on residents.

On two occasions, some residents turned on their faucets to no avail — the plant had run out of water to supply the village.

Activists Call Out US Officials Over Virtual Public Meetings - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

It was supposed to be a virtual public meeting focused on a review of a proposed plan that will govern oil and gas drilling and other development across a vast corner of northwestern New Mexico. 

The area includes a national park and spots important to Native American tribes. 

Instead, Thursday's meeting hosted by federal land managers spurred only criticism as tribal members and environmentalists pushed for the public comment period to be extended due to hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Not only have tribes been hit hard by the virus, they say that those who will be most affected by the plan aren't able to comment because they live in rural areas without adequate broadband and poor cellphone service. 

The All Pueblo Council of Governors, the New Mexico congressional delegation and others have asked repeatedly over recent weeks for the comment period to be extended. 

Navajo Nation President Says Still Not Safe To Go Out In PublicAssociated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says additional deaths and COVID-19 cases reported on the tribe's sprawling reservation indicate it's still not safe for residents to go out in public.

The tribal health department late Wednesday reported 147 more confirmed COVID-19 cases with 16 additional deaths from the coronavirus outbreak. The increases put the number of cases at 3,392 with a total of 119 deaths.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said residents should still stay home and only go out in public when necessary.

The reservation includes large areas of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

New Mexico AG Sues Over University Football Probe - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

State Attorney General Hector Balderas is demanding that New Mexico State University turn over documents related to an investigation into its head football coach over allegations of abuse.

His office filed Thursday an Inspection of Public Records lawsuit in state district court seeking a full report of a probe into the Aggies football program and head coach Doug Martin. 

Balderas says his office received an executive summary of a private attorney's report but not all of the documents. 

The lawsuit comes after the attorney general's office received an anonymous letter in November and began looking into allegations of misconduct regarding the football program.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that the anonymous complaint said Martin mistreated students of color and put students in peril by requiring them to practice under dangerous conditions. The letter also alleged Martin instructed students to play when injured, and to avoid trainers on staff.

Balderas says it was "reckless" that the school has not been fully transparent in how they have addressed abuse complaints. 

New Mexico State spokesperson Minerva Baumann says the school has been transparent and found Martin broke no laws.              

New Mexico National Forests To Impose Fire Restrictions - Associated Press

Three forests in northern New Mexico will be implementing fire restrictions next week to reduce the risk of human-caused fires. 

Forest officials cited dry conditions in announcing the restrictions for the Carson, Cibola and Santa Fe forests. 

They're also worried about the complexity of fighting wildfires amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Aside from the restrictions, fire managers are implementing several measures in response to COVID-19 to keep firefighters safe from potential transmission. That includes social distancing when possible, spreading fire camps out over larger areas, screening and testing personnel and identifying support functions that can be done virtually to reduce the number of people onsite.

The restrictions for the three forests will take effect May 20. 

The Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico already is prohibiting campfires. 

New Mexico's state forester also has imposed restrictions on fireworks, campfires, smoking and open fires on all non-municipal, non-federal and non-tribal lands statewide because of the escalating fire danger.

Albuquerque Man Pleads Guilty In Threats CaseAssociated Press

Officials say an Albuquerque man has pleaded guilty after being accused of posting Facebook messages threatening to kill New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, law enforcement officers and other government officials.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico said 34-year-old Daniel Logan Mock plead guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to two counts of transmission of threatening communications in interstate commerce.  

The office says Mock acknowledged in a plea agreement that he posted threatening messages on March 2 and March 13. According to a statement issued by the office, Mock faces up to five years in prison on each count when he's sentenced.

Jets To Conduct Flyover Over Southern New Mexico On FridayAssociated Press

A formation of U.S. Air Force jets on Friday will conduct a flyover in southern New Mexico to show appreciation for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Holloman Air Force Base officials said four F-16s from the base outside Alamogordo will fly over hospitals and other sites in Roswell, Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Alamogordo and Las Cruces between 5:25 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Similar flyovers have been conducted around the country as part of a campaign called "Air Force Salutes." 

Santa Fe Police: Suspect Arrested In 2018 Homicide Case - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Police in Santa Fe say a suspect has been arrested in the 2018 fatal shooting of a man during an altercation in his backyard. 

They say 26-year-old Joseph Jones is jailed on suspicion of murder, tampering with evidence, attempt to commit aggravated burglary and residential burglary. 

Police say 52-year-old Robert Romero was shot and killed at his home in central Santa Fe on July 30, 2018. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports detectives have been investigating the case using several types of new technology, including DNA testing and genetic analysis. 

A genetic data profile of the shooter was created from a DNA sample left at the crime scene. Police say they narrowed a list of possible suspects to three potential matches and identified Jones as the suspect.

Contractor Found Dead In Railroad Tank Car In New MexicoCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

An oil refining company says a man from Marshall, Texas has died in a possible industrial accident while performing an inspection on a railroad tank car in southeastern New Mexico.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported that Marathon Petroleum Corporation identified the man as 49-year-old Cody B. Vernon. He was pronounced dead Tuesday by medical personnel at the Marathon Rio Hub Rail Terminal in Loving.

Company spokesperson Jamal T. Kheiry said Vernon was a contractor performing an inspection on the tank car. A second contractor, who remained unnamed, called emergency responders.

Capt. Matt Hutchinson said his body was sent to Albuquerque for an autopsy. An investigation is ongoing.