MON: More Vaccine Shipments Coming To New Mexico, Judge Dismisses Education Lawsuit, + More

Dec 21, 2020

More Shipments Of COVID-19 Vaccine Are Heading To New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Officials with some of the major hospitals in New Mexico say they expect to finish giving their employees the COVID-19 vaccine in the next two to three weeks as more doses arrive.

Thousands of front-line health care workers have already received their shot. Like other states, New Mexico learned last week it would be getting about one-third fewer doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The initial shipments of the second vaccine, by Moderna, will be arriving soon. Those will be funneled to staff and residents at long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

While some politicians have received their shots, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and members of her Cabinet have not.

While the number of confirmed cases reported each day has decreased, Lujan Grisham on Monday reiterated her call for people to be cautious during the holidays and not give the virus an opportunity to spread. She said a post-holiday surge would derail the state's progress.

During a briefing, hospital officials reported overwhelming interest from their employees in getting the vaccine. They also said there have yet to be any adverse reactions beyond arm soreness and fatigue.

At University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, the initial focus has been on employees — whether they are doctors, nurses, physical therapists or part of the cleaning crew — who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

More than 130,800 confirmed cases have been reported in New Mexico since the pandemic began. That includes an additional 826 cases reported Monday, marking one of the lowest daily totals in several weeks.

Meanwhile, the state’s death toll inched closer to 2,200, with an additional nine deaths reported Monday. Hospital officials said the statewide tally is reflective of the high incidence among New Mexicans of underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Oil And Gas Deliver Revenues To New Mexico Despite Pandemic - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Oil and gas development infused $2.8 billion into New Mexico coffers during the 2020 fiscal year despite a global price war and plummeting demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association on Monday released a report on the industry's economic impact. It shows that record production helped push revenues to their second-highest total ever reported.

The industry group says oil and gas revenues accounted for one-third of total state spending. Much of that went toward education.

Federal mineral leasing was the single largest source of oil and gas revenue for the state at more than $800 million.

Straddling southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, the area is one of the most prolific plays in the world as major energy companies have spent the last several years consolidating their focus on the region.

However, the pace of development on federal lands is expected to change under a Biden administration, which already has vowed to target fossil fuels as part of its climate campaign.

That includes blocking any rollbacks of environmental laws and banning new permits for drilling on federally managed public lands.

President-elect Joe Biden recently nominated U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, which oversees oil and gas development on federal land.

A co-sponsor of the progressive movement's Green New Deal, the New Mexico Democrat has said that she supports a ban on fracking and has suggested that leasing policies need to change to encourage more renewable energy development.

While drawing the praise of environmentalists, Haaland's stance on energy development has concerned many in New Mexico given the poverty-stricken state's dependence on oil and gas revenues.

Some New Mexico politicians also have been mounting pressure on the industry as part of Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's push to limit methane emissions and other pollution.

Navajo Officials Urge Vigilance Over COVID During HolidaysAssociated Press

Officials on the Navajo Nation are urging residents to remain steadfast in preventing the spread of the coronavirus amid the holidays.

The tribe reported 157 new cases of the coronavirus as of Sunday, the lowest daily count this month.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez says the cases spiked following Thanksgiving, and he doesn't want to see a repeat after Christmas. He encouraged people to celebrate with only others in their household.

The tribe has reported 21,019 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began and 746 deaths.

Midwestern Universities Form Alliance To Lure Space CommandOmaha World-Herald, Associated Press

Four Midwestern universities have formed a space-oriented academic and research alliance aimed at luring the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that University of Nebraska President Ted Carter says the partnership with the University of North Dakota, Kansas State University and Purdue would develop new degree programs and research initiatives. Offutt is among the six finalists to become the headquarters.

Other finalists are Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama and the former Kelly Air Force Base in Texas.


Appeals Court Judge Is Appointed To New Mexico Supreme Court – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press 

Julie J. Vargas, a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals, has been appointed to serve on the state Supreme Court.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office announced the appointment Saturday.

Vargas, a Democrat, will succeed retired Justice Judith K. Nakamura, a Republican who was appointed by former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Vargas grew up in Albuquerque and got her law degree from the University of New Mexico.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports as an appellate court judge, Vargas has heard disputed decisions from lower courts around the state since 2016. Before that, she worked in private practice for more than 20 years, mostly in commercial and personal injury law.

Vargas also has served as co-chairwoman of the Advisory Committee of the Code of Judicial Conduct and taught part time at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

She won a 2016 primary election for an eight-year term on the state Court of Appeals.

Judge Dismisses One Of New Mexico's Education Lawsuits - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

State education officials will have one less lawsuit to contend after a suit representing a disabled student demanding in-person education services was dismissed Friday.

The lawsuit had also represented plaintiffs in rural counties where COVID-19 rates were high and the chance of resuming in-person schooling under state rules is very low.

U.S. District Judge James Browning ordered the Public Education Department to intervene in the case of a 13-year-old student with special needs in Hobbs in October but did not certify a class-action lawsuit.

Browning closed the case Friday, writing that the parties had agreed to dismiss it. In separate court documents, it was stated that the student's educational services were addressed and that part of the case was moot. Lawyers representing her had argued that students with emotional learning challenges needed to be in classrooms with other students, not just online.

The state faces other lawsuits, including one from school boards and administrators over what they describe as state overreach.

Last week, an ongoing lawsuit over access to education was expanded, arguing that the state hasn't used its authority enough. In a motion, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in Martinez/Yazzie demanded that public school students get laptops and internet access.

New Mexico Makes Employment Gains Amid Virus Restrictions - Associated Press

Labor officials say local governments have shed thousands of jobs in New Mexico amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Department of Workforce Solutions on Friday announced that the overall statewide unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5% in November, down from 8.1% in October. Payroll employment is down by 58,300 jobs since November 2019, excluding agriculture. 

Most employment losses are in the hospitality and petroleum sectors. But local government also reduced employment by 6,500 jobs, mostly in public education. 

New Mexico is delivering relief payments of $1,200 to at least 120,000 unemployed people and offering $100 million in small business grants tied to federal relief money received by the state.

An emergency health order continues to require face masks, ban gatherings of more than five people, forbid indoor dining at restaurants and restrict capacity at most businesses to 25% or less.

Prosecutor Lacked Active Law License; Cases Being Reviewed - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

District attorney and public defender offices are reviewing cases handled by a metro Albuquerque prosecutor who wasn't properly licensed to practice law in New Mexico. 

District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Brandale Mills Cox said the New Mexico State Bar notified the office on Dec. 8 that a clerical error occurred after Brian Jeffries applied to both reinstate his inactive New Mexico law license and to obtain a limited license available to prosecutors licensed in another state.

Mills Cox told the Albuquerque Journal that Jeffries has resigned and that only nine cases could be substantively affected by the licensing problem. 

However, Jennifer Barela, the Albuquerque district defender, said dozens of cases that Jeffries helped handle could be affected and were being reviewed.

The Journal said it was unable to reach Jeffries for comment.

Report: New Mexico Needs Plan To Address High Suicide Rate - Associated Press

New Mexico has a suicide rate 1.5 times that of the national average, and legislative analysts say a new plan is needed to address the many causes. 

Analysts with the Legislative Finance Committee released their findings this week, saying the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and suicide rates are likely to increase. 

The state is projecting a 20% increase in behavioral health needs. 

New Mexico has yet to develop a statewide suicide prevention plan, but the analysts are recommending that the state as part of that work establish a goal to reduce suicides by 10% in five years.

According to state data, there were 515 suicides in New Mexico last year and preliminary information shows total suicides are about the same for the first 10 months of 2020. However, monthly totals for May and July outpaced those from the previous year. 

Officials said one reason the suicide numbers are comparable so far to last year is the delay in determining the cause of deaths. Another possibility is that behavioral health problems may not manifest themselves immediately after a person suffers trauma, including trauma related to the pandemic.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-NM-CRISIS or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

New Mexico Reports 1,077 New COVID-19 Cases, 16 More Deaths - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 1,077 new COVID-19 cases and 16 related deaths. 

The statewide totals increased to 129,993 cases and 2,171 known deaths as seven-day rolling averages for daily new cases dropped and daily deaths rose over the last two weeks. 

Of the 1,077 new cases, New Mexico Department of Health officials say 278 of them were in Bernalillo County, the state's largest county that includes the metro Albuquerque area. 

According to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project, the rolling average of daily new cases in New Mexico dropped from 1,869 on Dec. 4 to 1,542.1 on Friday while the rolling average of deaths rose from 28.9 to 34.1.

On Thursday, when the state reported a pandemic-high 48 daily deaths linked to the pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was concerned that daily deaths could grow even higher over the year-end holidays.

Navajo Nation Reports 235 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 235 new COVID-19 cases plus three more virus-related deaths. In all, the tribe has reported 20,810 coronavirus cases resulting in 745 deaths since the pandemic hit the vast reservation in March. 

The new statistics released Saturday night came as the reservation entered the latest in a string of weekend-long lockdowns designed to limit activity that can spread the virus.  

Health officials said almost 190,000 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested and nearly 11,000 have recovered from COVID-199.  

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.

Kirtland AFB Unit Getting New Search-And-Rescue Helicopters - Associated Press

A special operations unit at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque has received the first of an expected 14 new combat search-and-rescue helicopters. 

Officials say the first HH-60W and those that follow will be flown by 512th Rescue Squadron of the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland.

The HH60W will be used to train air crew members and will gradually replace the HH-60G. 

The Air Force has been operating the HH-60G since 1987. Air Force officials anticipate that the 58th Wing will training crews for both aircraft types until at least 2023.