MON: Hospital Officials Hoping For Boost In Vaccine Supplies, Few Schools Return In Person, + More

Feb 8, 2021


New Mexico Officials Hold Out Hope For More Vaccine Supply - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Officials at some of New Mexico's largest hospitals said Monday they are holding out hope that vaccine supplies will catch up with demand as state health officials confirmed that some pharmacies would begin receiving shipments this week.

More than 590,000 residents have registered online to be vaccinated, but health care officials and the state Health Department acknowledge that demand is far outpacing current supplies. Some older New Mexicans and those with pre-existing health concerns that put them at greater risk have waiting for weeks.

State health officials have acknowledged that residents in search of vaccines have been going to Texas, where individual clinics have been vaccinating people on a first-come, first-serve basis.

New Mexico has expanded eligibility beyond initial categories such as medical personnel, nursing home residents and staff to include all people over the age of 75 and other adults at high risk of several health complications from the virus.

That opens up a huge eligible population of roughly 900,000 people, within a state of 2.1 million, who will take several months to vaccinate even as the supply chain expands.

Officials at University of New Mexico Hospital and Lovelace in Albuquerque as well as Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe said they are all ready to ramp up vaccinations as soon as supplies grow. They pointed to increased production and new vaccines that will be hitting the market, saying anticipation is high that supply and demand pressures will ease.

On Monday, the New Mexico Department of Health confirmed Walgreens and other pharmacies in the state would begin receiving vaccine shipments this week under a federal plan aimed at boosting distribution.

Over 88,000 state residents have been fully vaccinated — or about 4.2% of the population. An estimated 340,000 people have received just the first shot out of two.

About 9,000 shots are being administered per day statewide. At the University of New Mexico's basketball arena, known as The Pit, officials plan to administer about 1,600 shots a day this week and under 1,000 shots next week based on supply forecasts.

The vaccination rollout comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop. On Monday, New Mexico reported its lowest daily case count in nearly four months with 315 cases and 13 more deaths.

Marijuana Producer May Lose License After Santa Fe FireAssociated Press

A medical marijuana producer is in danger of losing its license in the wake of a fire at a Santa Fe facility that left two workers hurt.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday that the New Mexico Department of Health is weighing whether to revoke the license for New Mexicann Natural Medicine.

Authorities say the October fire started after two employees were in the midst of a cannabis extraction process. One lost his grip as both were carrying a large metal vessel with a mixture of ethanol and cannabis oil.

The state health department suspended the dispensary's ability to manufacture cannabis products, according to a notice from December. Officials say New Mexicann did not follow the rules of the Medical Cannabis Program, which include failing to train their staff on how to use the equipment properly.

It is the second incident at that location after an explosion occurred there in 2015.

New Mexicann, which has been licensed since 2009, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Few New Mexico Schools Rush To Offer In-Person Classes - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico's largest school districts aren't rushing to get back to in-person learning, despite getting a green light from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The Albuquerque Public Schools board last week tabled a discussion for a hybrid in-person plan with 50% of students in classrooms. The board instead asked officials to prepare a plan for even smaller groups.

In Santa Fe, a hybrid reopening plan relies on teacher volunteers, but only 15% are raising their hand to head back.

Other districts have simply given up on in-person classes, opting to educate remotely through the end of the spring semester.

All schools have been allowed to have some small in-person classes, with five students to a teacher for programs that involve special needs students and younger children who benefit even less from online instruction than their peers.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are bitter over the way Gov. Lujan Grisham has restricted school openings over the past year.

On Monday, a Senate Education Committee hearing served as a platform for those grievances as legislators considered a bill that would take some emergency health order authority away from the governor and give it school boards.

Navajo Nation Getting Nearly 29K Doses Of COVID-19 VaccinesAssociated Press

Navajo Nation officials say they are getting nearly 29,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week plus 82 more federal personnel to help with vaccinations.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez says the goal is to administer 100,000 total doses of the vaccines by the end of this month.

Navajo Nation health officials say the tribe will be receiving 26,000 more doses of the Moderna vaccine and 2,925 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Nez says that as of Sunday, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service received 78,520 vaccine doses and 94% of them had been administered.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allocated $210 million to the Indian Health Service to support COVID-19 vaccine-related activities for tribes and $790 million for COVID-19 testing efforts.

The funds were made available through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was signed into law in December 2020.

On Sunday, Navajo Nation health officials reported 23 new COVID-19 cases and one death. That raised the totals to 28,897 cases and 1,057 known deaths since the pandemic began.

The tribe has extended its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the virus' spread.

The Navajo Nation also is lifting weekend lockdowns to allow more vaccination events.


Democrats Cap Damage Awards In Police Accountability Bill By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A bill that would strip police officers of immunity from civil rights lawsuits in state court is being rewritten to cap potential damage awards at $2 million, in a concession to critics who warned of dire financial consequences for local governments and taxpayers. 

Bill sponsor and state Rep. Georgene Louis of Albuquerque announced the revisions Friday to the bill that would also waive personal liability in lawsuits against police and other government officials for violations of an array of civil rights under the state constitution. 

The bill confronts a crucial hurdle at a hearing scheduled for Monday in the Democrat-led state House.

New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Latino residents in the nation, routinely ranks first or second among states for per-capita annual killings by police, according to a national database maintained by The Washington Post.

"If we're going to repair the trust between government actors and the communities they serve, we need to provide avenues for accountability," Louis said.

The proposal builds on recommendations of a civil rights commission, chartered by the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in June as protests over police brutality and racial injustice swept the nation and New Mexico's largest city.

A minority report from four civil rights commission members, including Republican state Sen. Steve Neville, warned the recommended changes would financially punish local government and taxpayers — and enrich civil rights attorneys — without necessarily resolving police misconduct. 

At the same time, the conservative nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity Foundation is advocating for the reforms as a sorely needed measure of accountability in the criminal justice system. The group is connected to the primary political organization supported by billionaire Charles Koch, whose organizations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates and conservative policies.

Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Bosson led the commission in a majority recommendation to rein in "qualified immunity" for public officials in the name of protecting individual constitutional rights, from free speech to gun rights.

Bosson said Friday that he previously swayed the commission away from punitive damages and that the cap on all damage awards should address lingering financial concerns.

"The two biggest concerns that they had at the time have been addressed," he said.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf describes financial objections as a distraction to avoid accountability for civil right violations in policing and local government.

"Some of these local governments are talking about costs because they don't want to talk about the people who had their rights trampled," said Egolf, a Santa Fe-based attorney. "You have their claims thrown out of court due to a judicially invented doctrine of qualified immunity. It was created in order to suppress civil rights claims that African-Americans had in the 1960s."

New Mexico Releases Data On Child Poverty And Welfare - Associated Press

New data from New Mexico shows that the southern portion of the state continues to lag behind the rest of the state in child poverty and welfare. 

The 2020 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book was released to provide state legislators child welfare data and showed that the state is still 48th in child poverty among U.S. states. 

Emily Wildau, the New Mexico Kids Count research and policy analyst, says most of the data released was from 2019. 

She says that in the data's timeframe, 11 of 16 indicators of child welfare had improved. 

Despite the improvements in some categories, the south of the state is still experiencing problems with child poverty and welfare.

Doña Ana County is the second-most populous county in the state, and 41% of the county's children aged 17 or younger live in poverty. To compare, Bernalillo County, in the center of the state, has 25% of its children living in poverty, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Amber Wallin, the deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said the problem is that families in southern New Mexico have not been prioritized by state legislators.

"There's been policies over the years that unfortunately really haven't prioritized many communities and families of color in our state," Wallin said. "And Doña Ana County and Las Cruces have higher proportions of families that are families of color."

New Mexico Lawmaker Changes Affiliation After Abortion Vote - Associated Press

A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico who voted in favor of a Democratic-backed abortion bill has left the Republican Party. 

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said on Friday that state Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell changed his voter registration to a "declined to state" after voting to repeal a 1969 law that criminalizes abortion. 

Anderson sided with seven Democrats in repealing the law, drawing criticism from his constituents as well as calls for his resignation. 

Anderson declined a request for an interview. "Sorry," he told the Santa Fe New Mexican in a text message on Friday. "Not today as I have done enough."

Anderson was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 and won reelection to another two-year term in 2020. He also served in the House from 1977 through 1980.

The decision to change his party means Democrats now hold an advantage over Republicans in the House, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

"Rep. Anderson, straight up, is and has always been a decent man," said Democratic state Rep. Angelica Rubio. "This doesn't surprise me one bit, and says so much about who he is."

John Block, who founded a conservative news website Piñon Post, said Anderson's vote is why he was forced out of the Republican Party.

"He must now resign and allow local leaders to fill his seat with someone who truly represents the 66th District," Block said in an email. "The time for wishy-washy, and unreliable 'Republicans' in the House is over."

The current New Mexico statute is unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said overly restrictive state government regulations of abortion were unconstitutional.

Supporters of the repeal legislation have expressed concern that the high court will weaken or overturn the 1973 ruling.

Cowboys For Trump Leader Released From Jail Pending Trial - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., is freeing from jail Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin as he awaits trial in connection with the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell on Friday reversed a magistrate judge's detention order and released Griffin to his home in New Mexico pending trial on charges of knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Howell said that denying pre-trial release might leave Griffin in jail for longer than the one-year maximum sentence amid pandemic-related court delays.

Griffin denies federal charges that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Griffin is banned from visiting Washington outside of court proceedings, must surrender his passport and must not possess a firearm.

More than 150 people have been charged in federal court with crimes following the Jan. 6 riot.

In releasing Griffin, the judge said she weighed Griffin's unrepentant appearance among the riotous crowd at the Capitol and vows to return and plant a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk against his apparently candid subsequent interactions with the FBI and no obvious disdain toward the judiciary. She noted repeatedly that Griffin on Jan. 6 did not carry weapons, commit violence or enter the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin, an elected commissioner in Otero County, has led the Cowboys for Trump group in horseback parades through cities across the country in support of Donald Trump.

Colleagues on the Otero County commission have called on Griffin to resign in the aftermath of the Capitol siege.

State election regulators recently sued Griffin over his refusal to register Cowboys for Trump as a political group as agreed upon in arbitration. Griffin says the group is a for-profit business and that he worries about contributors being identified and harassed.


New Mexico Reports 349 New COVID-19 Cases And 13 More Deaths - Associated Press, KUNM News

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 349 new COVID-19 cases and 13 more deaths as the coronavirus outbreak in the state continued to slow.

The latest figures released by the Department of Health increased the state's totals to 177,556 and 3,399 known deaths since the pandemic started.

But rolling two-week averages of daily new cases and daily deaths both dropped over the past two weeks.

The rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 846.6 on Jan. 22 to 570.7 on Friday and the rolling average of daily deaths dropped from 29 to 18.6, according to data from The COVID-Tracking Project.

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

Bernalillo County saw the most new cases Sunday with 98. Doña Ana County saw the next highest daily cases with 51. 

Most of those whose deaths due to the COVID-19 were reported Sunday were over the age of 70. One San Juan County resident, however, was in their 20s. 

Navajo Nation Reports 71 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 71 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths. 

The latest numbers released Saturday night raised the totals to 28,872 cases and 1,056 known deaths since the pandemic began. 

U.S. President Joe Biden recently signed a long-awaited major disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation. 

It will provide more federal resources and prompts the release of federal funds for the reimbursement of emergency funds expended to address the COVID-19 pandemic on the Navajo Nation which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 

The tribe has tribe extended its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Navajo Department of Health has identified 56 communities with uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, down from 75 communities in recent weeks.

The Navajo Nation also is lifting weekend lockdowns to allow more vaccination events.

The actions in the latest public health emergency order will run through at least Feb. 15.

Tribal officials said there have been more than 235,500 COVID-19 tests administered on the vast reservation and over 15,000 people have recovered.

Structure Fire In Village Spreads Into New Mexico Forest - Associated Press

U.S. Forest Service officials say a fire that started Friday night in a structure in the southern New Mexico mountain village of Sacramento spread into an adjacent national forest before crews stopped its growth overnight. 

Officials say numerous volunteer fire departments and two fire engines completed lines around the fire, limiting its size to 17 acres of private land and Lincoln National Forest. 

Officials said crews on Saturday were mopping up and monitoring the fire to ensure that fire lines continued to contain the fire. 

Sacramento is in Otero County and 24 miles east of Alamogordo.

Endangered Wolves Sent From Arizona To Texas To Aid Species - Associated Press

Two endangered Mexican gray wolves and three of their pups have moved from the Phoenix Zoo to the El Paso Zoo in a bid to bolster the number of predators. 

The Arizona Republic reports that three other pups stayed in Phoenix and are now adjusting to an emptier den and establishing a new hierarchy. 

Phoenix Zoo officials say that while it doesn't have a breeding pair anymore, it plans to change the enclosure to make it appealing to a breeding female wolf. 

The other wolves were transferred under a cooperative breeding program that aims to help the Mexican gray wolf survive.

The five wolves transferred to Texas were placed in quarantine at the El Paso Zoo until the first week of February. Animal curator John Kiseda said he was hopeful they will have adjusted to their surroundings by the time the zoo reopens following a pandemic closure.

Kiseda said he hopes the breeding pair will continue to reproduce so El Paso becomes home to a multigenerational pack.

Since wolves started being released in the late '90s, the wild population has grown by an average of 15% in the past 10 years. The latest annual census of the species found 163 wolves in the wild — 76 in Arizona and 87 in New Mexico.