MON: State Launching COVID Exposure App, Navajo Nation COVID-19 Cases Surpasses 30,000, + More

Mar 22, 2021

Navajo Nation Reports No New Coronavirus Cases And No Deaths Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported no new COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

It was the second consecutive day that the tribe has not recorded a coronavirus-related death.

The death toll remains at 1,233 since the pandemic began with the number of confirmed cases at 30,007 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening last week with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions.

Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain.

Tribal health officials say more than 191,000 vaccine doses have been distributed.

"Once again, the Navajo Nation is exemplifying what can be accomplished when we listen to the public health experts and work together. Our hard work is paying off and our prayers are being answered," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "The fight against COVID-19 continues on. Variants continue to be of great concern across the country, especially as we see more and more people travel including students on spring break."

Number Of Navajo Nation COVID-19 Cases Surpasses 30,000 Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported nine new COVID-19 cases but no new deaths, pushing the total number of cases since the pandemic past 30,000.

The latest numbers released Sunday bring the tribe's pandemic total to 30,0007 confirmed cases. The number of known deaths remains 1,233.

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening last week with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions.

Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez reiterated in a statement the importance of getting vaccinated. However, he said those who are vaccinated should not take vacations or hold large in-person gatherings with the ongoing spread of COVID-19 variants.

Now is not the time to take vacations or to begin holding large in-person gatherings due to the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 variants in neighboring states.

The vast Navajo reservation covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Police Say New Mexico Charges Coming After Killings In 2 States - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Charges were imminent against a man suspected of killing his ex-wife and three others in New Mexico in a series of slayings that include the beating death of a New Jersey resident he claimed sexually abused him as a child, authorities said Monday.

Investigators over the weekend searched a house where Sean Lannon, his ex-wife and their children were believed to have lived in the city of Grants, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of Albuquerque. Police Lt. David Chavez would not specify what investigators were looking for, only that the warrants were for anything of "evidentiary value" as local and federal authorities try to piece together what happened.

"It's a complicated case," Chavez said. "It wasn't just one event, so we're having to look at many things."

Authorities also were still looking into Lannon's claims that he killed 11 other people in New Mexico. Chavez reiterated Monday that while anything is possible, it was not probable given that there were no records of people missing from the area or other police reports that would indicate there are potential victims.

Authorities said in court documents that Lannon, 47, admitted to the additional killings in a phone call to a relative, who told investigators he expressed remorse.

The case began March 5, when the bodies of Lannon's ex-wife and three other people were found in a vehicle in a parking garage at Albuquerque International Sunport, New Mexico's largest airport. They were identified as Jennifer Lannon, 39; Matthew Miller, 21; Jesten Mata, 40; and Randal Apostalon, 60.

It's not clear how or when they were killed.

Chavez said the first indication something was wrong was when Miller's girlfriend reported him missing in late January. When detectives talked to his friends and associates in Grants, they learned the others might also be missing.

Chavez said charges related to the deaths were imminent but that authorities feel they have time to build their case and gather as much evidence as possible because Lannon is in custody in New Jersey, where he's charged with killing Michael Dabkowski.

Lannon is accused of breaking in to Dabkowski's New Jersey home, just south of Philadelphia, and beating the 66-year-old to death with a hammer, according to an affidavit. His body was discovered March 8, three days after the remains were found in New Mexico.

Lannon told investigators that Dabkowski had sexually abused him as a child and that he had gone to the home to retrieve sexually explicit photos. Dabkowski mentored Lannon and his twin brother through a Big Brothers program in the 1980s, reported.

Assistant deputy public defender Ronald Appleby declined to comment on the New Jersey charge, saying he's only representing Lannon in that case. They're scheduled to return to court on April 8, Appleby said.

The Lannons lived in New Jersey before moving to New Mexico, and it was not clear how long they had been there. Chavez said New Mexico's child welfare agency had contact with the family but it wasn't known whether the children were at home when their mother disappeared.

Court records related to the couple's divorce and custody case showed that Sean Lannon was awarded sole custody of the children in 2019 and that a protective plan from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department included only supervised visitation by their mother over concerns at the time about the potential for neglect due to prescription drug abuse.

Relatives say Sean Lannon flew to New Jersey in early March with the couple's three children — 6- and 7-year-old girls and a 4-year-old boy. He took them to his parents' house and left again, saying he was going to look for Jennifer Lannon.

Her family grew more concerned, saying it wasn't like her to be without her children.

Lannon was arrested in St. Louis on March 10, and officials say he was driving Dabkowski's car. That's the same day prosecutors in New Jersey announced Lannon was charged with murder, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft and weapons counts.

Officials are trying to determine why Lannon was in St. Louis.

Albuquerque detectives traveled there to interview her. It appeared one of the New Mexico victims was killed in Albuquerque, and the other three died in the Grants area, Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos Jr. said.

Chris Whitman, Jennifer Lannon's brother, said Sean Lannon told the family in January that she had "run off" with some friends, possibly to Arizona. Whitman said Saturday that the story didn't sound right because "she was a great mom and, just, it would be uncharacteristic of her to not be with her children."

A Year Into Pandemic, Veterans Halls 'Barely Hanging' On - By Philip Marcelo, Associated Press

Local bars and halls run by Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts have fallen on hard times during the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers say many risk permanent closure after states ordered them, like other bars and halls, to shutter last spring. Local veterans groups argue that their facilities aren't simply private watering holes and should have been allowed to reopen sooner.

Local bars and halls run by VFW and American Legion posts — those community staples where vets commiserate over beers and people celebrate weddings and other milestones — were already struggling when the pandemic hit. After years of declining membership, restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 became a death blow for many.

The closures have added to the misery from a pandemic that's hit military veterans hard. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently estimated the death toll in its facilities alone was approaching 11,000.

The closure of some halls and bars also means vets dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and other wartime trauma have lost a critical safe space amid an isolating pandemic, leaders say.

"They can talk about things here that happened to them in the war that they'd never say to their psychiatrist or even their families," said Harold Durr, commander of American Legion Post 1 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Like a number of posts nationwide, Durr says his facility qualified for federal and local pandemic relief, though most of it could only be used to cover employee salaries, not utilities and other expenses.

He says the shuttered post, which includes a bar and hall, has largely relied on donations to pay monthly costs.

"We've had a rough go," says the 75-year-old Navy vet, who served in the Vietnam War. "But we've got to stay open. We've existed for 100 years. There's no way we can let it close."

How many vets halls and bars have permanently shuttered or risk closure because of the pandemic is hard to quantify.

The national VFW and American Legion organizations say the number of posts that dissolved completely last year was at or lower than prior years. But the organizations say they do not track bars and halls because they are locally controlled.

New Mexico Reports 176 New COVID-19 Cases, But No New Deaths - Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal 

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 176 more confirmed COVID-19 cases but no additional deaths.

The latest numbers increase the state's pandemic totals to 189,731 cases and 3,889 known deaths.

The Albuquerque Journal reports this was the first day in five months that the state saw no deaths related to COVID-19. 

Of the new cases, Bernalillo County had 56 of them with Dona Ana County having 20, Curry County 16 and Lea County 14.

Bernalillo, the state's largest county that includes metro Albuquerque, had 54,052 of New Mexico's total cases since the pandemic began.

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. 

Navajo Nation Reports 5 More COVID-19 Cases, 4 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported four more COVID-19 related deaths and five new cases as the total number of cases approaches the 30,000 mark since the pandemic began.

The latest numbers released Saturday night pushed the tribe's pandemic total to 29,998 confirmed cases and 1,233 known deaths.

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening Monday with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions. 

Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain. 

"When we wear a mask, we are protecting ourselves and showing that we respect the health and safety of others as well," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "Each one of us has an important role in keeping our numbers of COVID-19 cases low. With the spread of variants in this country, the safest place to be is at home here on the Navajo Nation. "

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

Legislature Delivers Virus Aid, Civil Rights; Falters On Pot - By Morgan Lee And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

As New Mexico's annual legislative session came to a close Saturday, legislators charted an economic exit from the COVID-19 pandemic and checked off progressive priorities on policing reforms, abortion rights, medical aid in dying and child poverty. 

In the final hours of a 60-day session, legislators ramped up state tax breaks for working families — a finishing touch on a broad package of economic relief measures.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief directly the working people — they need that now," Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said at a news conference at the close of the session. "We were able to get it done."

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has eagerly signed bills that provide grants and minimal-interest loans to small businesses, a $600 tax rebate to low-income workers and a four-month tax holiday to the food service industry.

She will decide in coming weeks whether to accept provisions of a $7.45 billion budget request that increases spending by nearly 5% in the fiscal year starting July 1, with a 1.5% pay bump for state and public school employees.

The budget bill also sets priorities for spending $1.63 billion in new federal aid on unemployment insurance, roads, college scholarships and more — items the governor will review and possibly veto.

Republican Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences hailed as a shining moment the legislative approval of an independent redistricting commission to redraw political boundaries when the federal Census is finalized. Commission recommendations would not be binding.

"They can choose to discard it, but they can also choose to listen to the citizens," she said. "It's a step in the right direction."

Leading Republicans in the legislative minority said many Democratic initiatives escaped adequate scrutiny in a Capitol building that remains closed to the public as a pandemic precaution and cordoned off by fencing, roadblocks and troops in the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

"We passed too many bills in the dark of night," said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia. "Our constituents were not present, and their participation was limited."

Egolf said videoconferencing has increased remote attendance at legislative hearings and will become a permanent option.

Lawmakers embraced an overhaul of the state's liquor laws in an effort to rejuvenate the tourism and hospitality industries that ground to a halt during the pandemic under aggressive public health orders. The new law overcame resistance from incumbent liquor license holders to make it easier for restaurants to serve mixed drinks and allow home alcohol delivery.

At the same time, a yearslong push to legalize recreational cannabis stumbled amid divergent views among advocates. 

Lujan Grisham said she will reconvene a special session of the legislature in a matter of weeks to finalize a proposal for legalizing recreational cannabis. She said security fencing will likely come down before the session.

"We have an incredible framework ready to go for adult use cannabis," Lujan Grisham said.

The Legislature responded to last year's nationwide protests over police brutality with approval of a bill that would end police immunity from prosecution and allow civil rights lawsuits in state court on everything from racial discrimination to illegal search and seizure and freedom of speech violations.

With backing from Native American and Black activists, lawmakers approved a bill that bans hair-based discrimination in the workplace and schools.

But bills that challenged police procedures on the use of force, chokeholds and misconduct reviews fell flat. 

A budget bill from the Legislature directs vast new financial resources toward public education, as schools across the state prepare to return to in-person teaching in early April after a year of online studies.

Legislators are asking the governor to approve a 5.8% increase in general fund spending on public schools in the coming fiscal year, for a total of $3.35 billion.

Lawmakers also queued up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would tap an additional $250 million annually from the state's multibillion-dollar trust fund to pay for early childhood schooling and social services.

A bipartisan effort to reverse the governor's pandemic health and school restrictions fizzled as COVID-19 infections waned and schools were allowed to reopen.

The session highlighted shifting attitudes toward abortion in a heavily Roman Catholic state, as Democrats made good on campaign promises to rescind the state's dormant 1969 ban on most abortion procedures — ensuring abortion access in case the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down its Roe v. Wade decision. 

The repeal of the abortion ban came after women won the majority of state House seats in 2020 election.

In another political sea change, a bill to ban the use of traps, snare and poison on public lands won final approval from the House of Representatives by a one-vote margin.

Republican Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena said the ban highlights a widening urban-rural political divide.

"This is going to be devastating for the people in my community that make a living doing this," Armstrong said.

Advocates for environment protection cheered the approval of a bill allowing local governments to institute stringent air quality standards -- and blasted Democratic legislative leaders for sidelining a proposed environmental bill of rights.

New Mexico Governor Appoints Judge To Court Of Appeals - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed a judge to the state Court of Appeals to fill a vacancy created by Justice Julie J. Vargas' appointment to the state Supreme Court.

The state's 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Gerald E. Baca was appointed to the New Mexico Court of Appeals on Friday.

"Judge Baca has extensive experience on all sides of criminal and civil litigation as well as a diverse and rigorous background on the bench," said Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, in a statement. "Our state Court of Appeals will greatly benefit from his decades of judicious and exemplary practice as an attorney and jurist."

Baca, a New Mexico native, has presided over criminal cases in the district court that serves the counties of Guadalupe, Mora and San Miguel since 2013.

"I'm so excited and looking forward to doing this work," Baca said. "But at the same time, a little saddened because I've been here in my hometown serving my community. It's hard to leave hoping that I've done a good job but looking forward to being able to do good things for the people of New Mexico and the Court of Appeals."

Baca, 59, will now be one of 10 judges tasked with reviewing appeals from the state's lower courts.

New Mexico Court of Appeals judges serve eight-year terms and must be retained by at least 57% of voters at the end of each term, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Baca, a registered Democrat, will have to win the 2022 primary and general elections to remain on the Court of Appeals, the newspaper reported. This is Baca's third gubernatorial appointment. 

Former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Baca to the 4th Judicial District seat in 2007. Baca then lost his job in an election the following year.

In 2013, former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Baca to the 4th Judicial District again. Baca was elected to remain in his post in 2014.

New Mexico To Launch App For COVID-19 Exposure Alerts - KRQE-TV, Associated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health is launching an app that will enable your phone to tell you in some instances if you have been exposed to COVID-19.

The app called NM Notify and intended to help slow spread of the coronavirus will go live Tuesday, KRQE-TV reported.

The department says NM Notify is a voluntary program that works by exchanging anonymous keys through Bluetooth with other nearby phones that also have the exposure notification app activated.

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, they will get a text with a verification that, when activated, will let other phones nearby know of exposures. 

According to the department, the notifications go out only a few times a day to help ensure privacy of the infected person.

Users of Android devices can find the app in the Google store. Users of iPhones using settings to turn on exposure notifications.

The department says the NM Notify app does not collect personal or location data and that no identifying data is returned to the department or another organization.