MON: As Daily COVID Cases Decline Officials Worry About Holiday Spike, + More

Dec 28, 2020


New Mexico Sees Decline In Daily Confirmed COVID-19 CasesAssociated Press

New Mexico is seeing its daily COVID-19 case totals decline. But health officials have been worried about whether the Christmas holiday could lead to another spike as it takes two to three weeks for infections to manifest.

On Monday, the state reported an additional 700 confirmed cases, bringing the total to more than 138,650 since the pandemic began. The 36 additional deaths bring the death toll to 2,380.

Almost one-third of the latest deaths included people at long-term care facilities and one inmate at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility.

Vaccinations of health care workers as well as staff and residents at long-term care facilities is ongoing.

Data collected by the state shows the virus has been most deadly for Hispanics and Native Americans. While those 65 years and older make up the largest group of people who have succumbed to the virus overall, deaths have been more evenly spread among younger groups of Hispanics and Native Americans.

The data also shows hypertension and diabetes are the leading underlying conditions among those who die from complications of a COVID-19 infection.

AG Says Records Related To Government Contract Work Are PublicAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The New Mexico attorney general's office says autopsy reports done by the state for a tribal entity or the federal government are subject to open record laws because the work is carried out in part using state funds and resources.

The written opinion was issued earlier this month. It stemmed from a request from the Rio Grande Sun newspaper for autopsy reports done by the state Office of the Medical Investigator under contract for the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

The newspaper filed a complaint with the attorney general's office in 2019 after being denied the records.

Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp wrote in the opinion that if such records were off limits, that would allow all other government agencies to perform contractual services either for other government entities or private ones and then decline to provide any information about those services to the public on the basis of a narrow interpretation of "public business."

The Albuquerque Journal reported that while the opinion isn't legally binding, the attorney general's office said the Office of the Medical Investigator has pledged to take remedial action.

The Office of the Medical Investigator said in a statement that it appreciated the attorney general's clarification and that it was committed to transparency.

New Mexico Leans On Outdoor Recreation For Economic RecoveryCarlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico officials are hoping an appetite for outdoor recreation during the coronavirus pandemic will help the state's economy recover.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division requested more funding for outdoor programs and support initiatives to be considered during the next legislative session scheduled to begin in January.

The division requested more than $3 million to fund its Great New Mexico Trails Package, which would provide funding to groups with plans to develop and maintain hiking trails statewide.

The division also requested about $1 million for the Outdoor Equity Fund to give funding to youth programs that center on outdoor recreation.

Division Director Axie Navas said outdoor recreation was one of the state's fastest-growing industries and would "be key to our recovery. We're looking at this one-time appropriation as a way to jump-start communities."

Navas called outdoor recreation a "powerhouse" that represents more than $2 billion in state gross domestic product and employs up to 35,000 residents.

She said by bolstering the industry, the state could preserve its natural resources while diversifying the economy that currently relies on the fossil fuel

Several environmental and conservation groups in the state have voiced support for the requests, pointing to a "lack" of funding in the outdoor recreation industry.

Groups such as WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance argued the additional funding could stimulate rural communities and help educate children across the poverty-stricken state.

Texas Company Opts To Settle Case Over New Mexico Fuel SpillAssociated Press

The state Office of Natural Resources Trustee has reached a proposed settlement with a Texas-based company over a fuel spill along a northern New Mexico river.

A tanker truck carrying more than 1,000 gallons of fuel overturned in icy conditions in 2016 and spilled its liquid cargo into the Cimarron River near a wildlife management area.

State officials said fish and invertebrates were killed and surrounding soil and sediment was contaminated. A portion of the river had to be closed to public access for several months.

Under the settlement, Fronk Oil Co. will pay $150,000 toward restoration projects in the area of the spill.

State officials said the agreement was filed in federal court this week. It will be up to a judge to sign off.

Fronk Oil cleaned up the spill under the oversight of the New Mexico Environment Department. The work involved capturing the fuel and removing contaminated soil.

Jerry Worsham II, a lawyer for Fronk Oil, said the company immediately began working with the state following the weather-related accident. He said the initial cleanup and a five-month remediation effort cost more than $300,000.

The Office of Natural Resources Trustee is drafting a restoration plan that will govern how the money will be spent. The public will have a chance to comment on the proposal before any work begins.

Friend Says Man Killed At Santa Fe Ski Area Was From PhoenixSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Authorities and a friend identified a Ski Santa Fe employee who died after hitting a tree while skiing during his free time over the weekend as a 22-year-old from Phoenix.

Sloan Simpson told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Bryan Garcia moved to New Mexico and was working in equipment rentals at the ski basin.

Simpson is the sister of Garcia's roommate, Evan Simpson, who created a GoFundMe page to benefit Garcia's family, the newspaper said.

Santa Fe County sheriff's deputies were called to the ski basin about 2 p.m. Saturday, and authorities said Garcia was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police Ask For Help Solving State Trooper's 1973 KillingDenver Post, Associated Press

Denver police are asking for help solving the 1973 shooting death of a Colorado State Patrol trooper.

The Denver Post reports Thomas Carpenter was shot Dec. 27, 1973, after he was apparently kidnapped by two men who had been with a stopped car along the side of U.S. 36 near Broadway.

The car was stolen, and witnesses later told investigators they saw the trooper driving his patrol car with two men in the back.

Carpenter was found dead in his car in the Montbello neighborhood. His gun was found in a ditch in New Mexico.

New Mexico To Begin Giving Vaccinations At Care FacilitiesAssociated Press

New Mexico will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to 15,000 people who work or live at long-term care facilities, state officials announced Saturday.

Beginning Sunday, the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains and Vida Pharmacy in Albuquerque will administer doses of the Moderna vaccine at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state, officials said.

Cabinet secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said people receiving vaccinations will need two doses from the same manufacturer administered several weeks apart. The pharmacies will send staff to facilities three times over the coming months to administer the vaccines.

Dr. Tracie Collins, Department of Health cabinet secretary, said people who have been vaccinated can still carry and transmit COVID-19, so it's important that they continue to wear masks and take other precautions such as washing their hands and distancing.

New Mexico Reports 30 Additional Virus Deaths Associated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health is reporting 747 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 30 additional deaths Sunday.

That brings the total to around 138,000 documented cases and around 2,300 related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Officials say around 750 people are hospitalized across New Mexico for COVID-19.

Around 60,500 people diagnosed with COVID-19 are considered to have recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Teen Pilots Airlift Pets From Crowding New Mexico Shelters Associated Press

Teenage pilots are airlifting animals from shelters in New Mexico to places out of state where they have a better chance of being adopted.

KRQE reports the program is a collaboration between the Barkhouse animal shelter in Las Cruces and the SAMS Academy Aviation in Albuquerque.

The high school student pilots need light hours, while the shelters need to move animals to areas where they are more likely to be adopted.

Managing director of Barkhouse Koko Dean, said the region is overpopulated with shelter pets and that can lead to more euthanizing.

Animal shelters have sent unwanted puppies to the Denver area by ground, but it’s a very long trip — a 10-hour drive from cities such as Las Cruces in southern New Mexico.

On a recent flight, 17-year-old pilot Cody Anderson helped move two female dogs and 22 puppies from Las Cruces to Albuquerque.

From there another pilot took them to Aurora, Colorado, where there are fewer stray dogs compared to the demand for adoptions.

The academy tells KRQE it has coordinated a few flights with dogs but hopes to transport other animals soon.

Some New Mexico Students Go To Texas For In-Person SchoolingAssociated Press

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart during a recent legislative meeting addressed a significant drop in enrollment this fall. He said more than 12,000 students did not inform schools about why they left, with no indication of a transfer or pivot to home schooling.

Around 5,000 of the students have been accounted for. The vast majority had switched to private schools, Bureau of Indian Education schools, or moved out of state.

Many have gone to Texas because that state is allowing students to attend class in person.

Seminole Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Suarez said the district gets calls almost every day from parents in New Mexico about enrolling their students in Seminole schools.

Texas schools also rank higher in the quality of education offered, coming in near the middle of the rankings while New Mexico hovers at the bottom.

New Mexico Reports Fewer DWI Arrests Since Pandemic BeganAssociated Press

Data from New Mexico state and local law enforcement agencies show drunk driving arrests have decreased substantially since the pandemic began.

New Mexico State Police spokesman Dusty Francisco said driving while intoxicated arrests fell 41% between March 1 and Dec. 22 compared to the same period in 2019.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office reported a 38% decrease in DWI arrests in 2020.

Alcohol-related deaths across the state are also down from last year. As of Dec. 15, 125 people have died from alcohol-caused crashes, the second-lowest figure in a decade, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Data show that alcohol consumption has actually increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Blue Cross Blue Shield has reported a 23% rise in alcohol use since March.

A study released by the RAND Corporation found that binge drinking has increased since 2019. That study said 14% of men and 17% of women reported an increase in the amount of alcoholic drinks they consumed each month, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.