MON: Restaurants Push Back Against Restrictions As N.M. Surpasses 15,000 COVID Cases, + More

Jul 13, 2020

New Mexico Restaurants Bristle At Rolling Back Indoor Dining - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's revamped public health order takes effect Monday, and some restaurant owners aren't happy that they've been ordered to rollback indoor dining.

They say they've gone to great lengths to make their establishments safe and that the governor has offered no evidence that New Mexico's uptick in cases has anything to do with restaurant service.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association has helped to organize an online petition and a statewide protest was planned later Monday.

The state has reported nearly 15,300 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and hospitalizations saw a steep increase in the past week.

The association estimates that out of the 82,000 people employed by the industry in the state, more than 50,000 jobs have been lost due to the pandemic and the resulting public health orders.

Association CEO Carol Wight said only about 20,000 of those jobs have come back within the last month as restaurants were allowed to resume some limited indoor dining starting in June.

"Many restaurants cannot survive another shut down," she said.

District Attorney Files New Charges Against Baca And Launches Suit Against Civil GuardKUNM, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced a new charge against Steven Baca today in the shooting of a protestor during a demonstration at the statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate in front of the Albuquerque Museum.

Torrez added aggravated battery with a deadly weapon to the charges stemming from the June 15 shooting. The victim was shot several times and wounded before being taken to the hospital. 

The Associated Press reports that Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez said he's amending the charges because Baca repeatedly provoked protesters. Any individual who would otherwise be able to claim self-defense cannot claim self-defense if he or she initiates a violent confrontation," Torrez told the AP. "It's our belief Mr. Baca was the first aggressor in this context and the individual that he shot was acting in response to his violent provocation."

Jason Bowles, who is representing Baca, told the AP his client had a right to defend himself. "There are many complex issues which we will be litigating, but the bottom line is that Mr. Baca acted in lawful self-defense," Bowles said.

Baca was released in June pending trial.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Torrez had filed this charge against Baca, but then announced he was dropping it, citing flaws in the initial investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department.

The case was turned over to New Mexico State Police, and Torrez charged Baca instead with one count of aggravated battery, two counts of misdemeanor battery against other protestors and carrying a firearm without a proper permit.

Torrez also announced today a civil suit against a militia group present at the protest. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the New Mexico Civil Guard’s actions are unlawful and also to prevent the group from continuing to act as an unauthorized military or police force.

In a news release, Torrez’s office states members of the Civil Guard include people associated with white supremacist organizations. It states New Mexico law prohibits unregulated private security forces and paramilitary organizations.

Members of the Civil Guard attended the protest wearing military-style clothing and carried assault rifles.

From the AP: The group on Monday posted on its Facebook page that elected leaders were trying to deflect criticism that police did not respond until after the shots were fired despite concerns by some in the crowd that the tension was mounting.

"By ordering police to let protesters tear down statues and destroy property they made that situation violent if one cruiser would have been there there would have been no blood on the streets that day," the group stated.

The Albuquerque Police Department has defended its actions that day.

Navajo Nation Coronavirus Death Toll Now More Than 400Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials are reporting five additional coronavirus-related deaths as well as 45 more confirmed cases on the tribe's sprawling reservation.

That pushes the death toll to 401 with the total confirmed COVID-19 cases to 8,187 as of Sunday night.

Tribal officials say 64,128 people on the reservation have been tested for the coronavirus and 5,856 people had COVID-19 but recovered.

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.

The reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Ex-US Diplomat Richardson To Urge Maduro To Free Americans - By Joshua Goodman, Associated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson plans to travel this week to Venezuela to urge President Nicolás Maduro to free several jailed Americans as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with the U.S.

Among the U.S. citizens jailed in Venezuela are two former Green Berets arrested in May while participating in a botched raid organized from neighboring Colombia to oust Maduro.

Also being held are six oil executives from Houston-based Citgo who were lured to Caracas in 2017 for a meeting. Richardson and his center have negotiated the release of some 40 Americans held by hostile foreign governments and criminal organizations. 

Santa Fe Community College Expects 25% Enrollment Drop - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Santa Fe Community College is expecting a 25 percent drop in enrollment this fall as students and prospective students battle the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports college officials said last week the enrollment decline will come as many classes remain online and the economic downturn is forcing students to prioritize paychecks over degrees. 

To help offset higher enrollment costs and financial struggles, the Santa Fe Community College Foundation has started an emergency assistance fund that will provide up to $300 to cover urgent expenses.

Thomasinia Ortiz-Gallegos, associate vice president for student success, said 200 students have applied for aid through the fund since it launched earlier this year.

New Mexico Reports 262 More COVID-19 Cases, 2 More Deaths

Health officials in New Mexico are reporting an additional 262 additional COVID-19 cases and two more confirmed deaths. 

That increased the statewide death toll to 545 and the confirmed cases total to 15,028 as of Sunday. 

The New Mexico Department of Health says 111 of the additional cases were in Bernalillo County, the state's largest county that includes the Albuquerque metro area. 

On Saturday, state authorities ordered a Walmart Supercenter in Las Cruces to close after four employees tested positive for the coronavirus in a three-week span. The store employs more than 400 people.

The state Environment Department now is requiring the store to test all of its workers and thoroughly disinfect the building.

Carlsbad Restaurant Flouts Reinstated Indoor Dining Restrictions - Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press, KUNM

The owner of a Carlsbad hotel and restaurant said she won't obey Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's orders shutting down indoor restaurant service. 

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports Janie Balzano, the owner of the Trinity Hotel and Restaurant in Carlsbad, says she will keep the business open to support her 41 employees and their families.

“This would shut us down for good. We are going to be staying open,” said Balzano.

Lujan Grisham on Thursday rolled back some re-openings, banning indoor seating at restaurants beginning Monday and cautioning residents that further upticks could endanger plans to reopen more of the economy.

Contact sports and film shoots are also on hold for the foreseeable future.

Federal researchers have outlined a range of possible death tolls the U.S. could suffer if people abandon social distancing too soon – from a “moderate” scenario of about 300,000 dead, to upwards of 1.8 million. According to CDC and state data, black and brown people and the elderly are disproportionately at risk of dying.

Tribes Struggle To Meet Deadline To Spend Virus Relief Aid - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Tribes across the country are wrestling with competing needs, restrictive laws and inadequate staffing as they try to meet a tight federal deadline on spending billions of dollars in virus relief funds. 

Congress set aside $8 billion for tribes that must be spent by the end of the year and meet strict federal guidelines. Otherwise, the tribes risk having to send it back. 

The money was supposed to go out within 30 days. But the payments to tribes were delayed as the Treasury Department grappled with how to dole out the funding, and some tribal nations sued the federal agency over which entities are eligible for a share.

Officials on the Navajo Nation have received $714 million in aid but approved just $60 million for health care, protective equipment and front-line workers against the virus. 

Rifts between the tribal government's legislative and executive branches have delayed putting more of the money to use.

Delivering drinking water, building adequate housing and getting residents online would take more money than the government made available and more time than allotted.

Navajo Nation Reports 44 More COVID-19 Cases, No New Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials are reporting 44 more coronavirus cases on the tribe's sprawling reservation but no additional deaths. 

That pushes the total of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 8,142 with the death toll remaining at 396 as of Saturday night. 

Tribal officials say 63,933 people on the reservation have been tested for the coronavirus and 5,835 people had COVID-19 but recovered. 

The Navajo Nation’s weekend lockdown began Friday night and ends at 5 a.m. Monday. All businesses on the reservation are required to close during the lockdown. 

Housing Construction Steady In New Mexico's Oil Region - Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

The crash of the oil business and the economic decline that has followed the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't stopped construction for the housing shortage in the heart of New Mexico's oil region. 

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Hobbs, New Mexico, is seeing new construction with three major developments, and building continues to grow through the pandemic. 

On top of the lots and homes being sold, multiple companies are trying to meet the need for apartments. 

Real estate agents say that despite the oilfield crash, the region still has a housing shortage.

Bobby Shaw, an agent with Burkett-Shaw Realty, said that given Hobbs' population, a healthy market should have 300 to 400 homes for sale any given day. Lea County only has 128 homes for sale, not including new construction.

Leon Ivie, a developer of Zia Crossing, said that normally six to seven homes are sold every month. He says last month 10 homes were sold. 

Amid Pandemic, Hatch Chile Festival Canceled For 1st Time - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

This year's Hatch Chile Festival has been cancelled over coronavirus concerns. 

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports organizers recently announced that COVID-19 had forced the cancellation of the event for the first time in its 49-year history. 

The fiesta is usually held over Labor Day weekend in Hatch, New Mexico — the chile capital of the world. 

Tina Cabrales, president of the Hatch Chile Festival, said factors aside from the state's mass gathering ban led to the cancellation of the event.

The festival's president said event organizers didn’t feel comfortable asking for donations as many sponsors have closed their businesses. She also said it would have been impossible to keep every area clean and disinfected at the event that normally hosts tens of thousands of people.

Cabrales said that even though it's disappointing, with around 15,000 cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, it's the right decision to cancel for the community's health and safety.

The San Juan County Fair, a summertime event held annually since 1884, won't be held in 2020 because of the virus outbreak, officials announced.

The event featuring concerts, a carnival, livestock shows and exhibitions was scheduled for August 2017. But board members said the decision was necessary because of guidelines set in Lujan Grisham's public health orders and the uncertainty of the situation.

 

Las Cruces Walmart Ordered To Close After 4 Workers Test Positive - Associated Press

New Mexico work safety regulators have ordered Walmart to close a store in Las Cruces, after four employees tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. 

The Environment Department said Saturday the order also requires Walmart to test the store's workers for COVID-19 and thoroughly disinfect the building. 

Walmart spokesman Pedro Mucciolo responded to a request for comment on the state's action with a statement that did not specifically address the New Mexico order. The statement said the company will take all necessary steps to safeguard people inside its stores and other facilities. 

Health officials Saturday reported four additional COVID-19 deaths and 230 additional confirmed cases.

The department urged customers who visited the Las Cruces location on Rinconada Boulevard since June 22 to seek COVID-19 testing.