New Mexico Officials Advocate For More Vaccine Doses - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
Nearly one quarter of New Mexico's population has registered to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, but officials at some of the state's largest health care providers said Monday that inconsistencies with the supply chain are among the barriers to getting more shots in arms.
More than half a million residents have registered on New Mexico's vaccine website. Health officials have been urging people to be patient as the focus shifts from vaccinating front-line health care workers, first responders and those at long-term care facilities to senior citizens. Those with chronic illnesses that put them at higher risk also are on the list.
Roughly 750,000 people fall within the groups eligible now. Dr. Tracie Collins, state health secretary, said it could be weeks before New Mexico can expand eligibility given the uncertainties around federal vaccine allocations. She did expect more doses to be delivered in the coming weeks.
New Mexico receives between 50,000 and 60,000 doses weekly. About half of the doses are aimed at people getting their first shots, and the remainder goes to those ready for their second injection, which is needed for full protection.
Of the more than 221,000 doses that have been shipped so far, nearly 204,000 have been administered, putting New Mexico among the top states for vaccine distribution rates.
Top officials with some of the state's largest health care providers acknowledged during a briefing Monday that the number of doses is one thing preventing more people from getting shots. They said they are ready to set up more clinics to administer vaccines after more doses arrive.
The continued push for mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing by hospital officials comes as New Mexico has seen its daily numbers of confirmed infections fall along with COVID-19 hospitalizations. In fact, the daily infection total has been below 1,000 for the last several days.
However, deaths are still high, with more than 200 reported in the last week. Officials said there is about a four-week lag before changes in the case total are reflected, so the death rate is expected to ease up in February.
Democrats Push To Enshrine Abortion Rights In New Mexico - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press
Democratic legislators are redoubling efforts to repeal New Mexico's dormant, 50-year-old ban on most abortion procedures that could go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.
A bill that would shore up abortion rights statewide was scheduled for its first legislative committee hearing on Monday in videoconference format as a precaution against the coronavirus.
Twenty-five senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. That's an indication of strong support in the 42-member, Democrat-led state Senate.
The state's voters last year ousted five conservative-leaning Democratic senators who voted in 2019 against a failed bill to overturn the state's abortion ban.
The state House approved that bill and appears unlikely to waiver this year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, wants the abortion ban overturned.
New Mexico's 1969 abortion statute allows medical termination of a pregnancy with permission of a specialized hospital board only in instances of incest, rape reported to police, grave medical risks to the woman and indications of grave medical defects in the fetus.
The law has been dormant since 1973, when the nation's highest court issued the Roe v. Wade decision, overriding state laws that banned or severely restricted access to abortion procedures.
Abortion legislation in New Mexico has implications for residents of neighboring states such as Texas, which has more stringent restrictions on abortion than New Mexico. Out-of-state women accounted for about one-quarter of the abortions performed in New Mexico in 2017.
Winter Storms Bring Relief To Parched Arizona, New Mexico - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press
A series of winter storms have dropped more precipitation in Flagstaff than the city had during last summer's monsoon season.
The recent snow measured as water topped the amount of rain that fell from mid-June through September, the driest monsoon season on record. Arizona and New Mexico have been parched lately in the worst categories of drought.
The storms brought some relief through much of Arizona and to a lesser degree in New Mexico. Forecasters say the mountainous areas of Arizona could get around 3 feet of snow before the latest storm moves out Tuesday.
Roads across western and northern New Mexico were snow packed and icy Monday from the latest storm, bringing much-needed rain and snow to the parched state.
While some eastern plains areas had no precipitation, several inches of snow fell at higher elevations, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said.
At this time last year, extreme and exceptional drought were nonexistent in New Mexico and Arizona.
Now, the two worst categories of drought cover more than 80% of New Mexico and nearly 94% of Arizona.
School Bill Challenges New Mexico Virus Restrictions - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America
A bipartisan group of New Mexico lawmakers is pushing legislation that would allow more students to attend class in person by shifting authority over decisions to reopen from state officials to local school boards.
The proposal follows the start of vaccine distribution to some teachers and growing pressure from parents to reopen schools and resume high school sports.
GOP House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, is expected to introduce the legislation on Monday.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would likely veto the bill.
She has allowed for limited in-person learning for younger students and those with disabilities, but they cover only a fraction of students in the state.
The governor's reopening plan was developed with input from health officials and a scientific modeling team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Multiple metrics of COVID-19 caseloads, positivity rates and testing rates are tracked, and each county is categorized as part of a color-coded system, with red being the most at risk. Sparsely populated Harding County is the only one of 33 to be classified as green.
Those counties classified as red often overlapped with GOP strongholds in rural areas where internet connections are lacking and the social and academic costs of remote learning are higher.
Earlier this week, the administration teased a loosening of restrictions that could undercut support in the Legislature for a bill that would take away their authority.
New Mexico Reports 635 New COVID-19 Cases And 30 More Deaths - Associated Press
Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 635 new COVID-19 cases and 30 more deaths.
The latest figures pushed the state's totals to 169,205 cases and 3,145 known deaths since the start of the pandemic.
On Saturday, health officials had reported 859 additional cases and 38 deaths.
Bernalillo County had the most additional cases reported Sunday with 146.
Most of the additional deaths involved older New Mexicans, but they also included several people in their 30s.
Navajo Nation reports 89 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths – Associated Press
Navajo Nation health officials on Monday reported 89 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths as a revised public health order is set to take effect.
The latest figures bring the total reported coronavirus cases on the reservation to 27,573 with 977 known deaths.
On Monday, the 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 53 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 Navajo Nation extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Navajo Nation Reports 133 New COVID-19 Cases, 7 More Deaths – Associated Press
Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 133 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths as a revised public health order is set to take effect.
The latest figures released Sunday bring the total reported coronavirus cases on the reservation to 27,484 with 973 known deaths. Beginning Monday, the tribe is extending its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The Navajo Nation is also lifting weekend lockdowns to allow more vaccination events. The actions in the latest public health emergency order will run through at least Feb. 15. The daily curfew will run daily from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
2 In 5 Americans Live Where Covid-19 Strains Hospital ICUs - By Carla K. Johnson And Nicky Forster Associated Press
Straining to handle record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of the nation's intensive care units are running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates.
Many of the facilities are clustered in the South and West.
An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15% of beds still available.
According to data through Thursday from the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations are still high in the West and the South, with over 80,000 current COVID-19 hospital patients in those regions. The number of cases reported in the U.S. since the pandemic's start surpassed 25 million on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Encouragingly, hospitalizations appear to have either plateaued or are trending downward across all regions. It's unclear whether the easing will continue with more contagious versions of the virus arising and snags in the rollout of vaccines.
In New Mexico, one surging hospital system brought in 300 temporary nurses from outside the state, at a cost of millions of dollars, to deal with overflowing ICU patients, who were treated in converted procedure rooms and surgery suites.
"It's been horrid," said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque. He's comforted that the hospital never activated its plan for rationing lifesaving care, which would have required a triage team to rank patients with numerical scores based on who was least likely to survive.
"It's a relief that we never had to actually do it," Mitchell said. "It sounds scary because it is scary."
Experts say sustained surges can jeopardize the quality of care in ICUs.
Hospitals are pleading with their communities to wear masks and limit gatherings.
New Mexico Deputies Equipped With Body Camera Technology - Albuquerque Journal, KOB-TV, Associated Press
Deputies with the Bernalillo County sheriff's department are now equipped with body cameras.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales unveiled on Friday the device that all 310 deputies will now be wearing after a newly approved state law requiring law enforcement to have body cameras.
Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque, has agreed to a more than $3 million, five-year contract for the BodyWorn camera by Utility, Inc.
The contract covers two cameras in each vehicle, Wi-Fi hotspots for the cruisers, uniform tailoring to hold the devices and a holster that will automatically activate the cameras when a gun is drawn.
The Albuquerque Journal reports the device can record videos, take photographs, upload content to the cloud, send alerts if a deputy is down and receive text messages or photos from dispatch.
KOB-TV reports Jason Dombkowski, BodyWorn director of law enforcement relations, said the vehicle sensors also activate the body-worn camera and in-car system.
The sheriff's office has also hired four more staff members to handle the devices and records requests.
Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies have not previously been required to wear body cameras. Sheriff Gonzalez has been an outspoken critic of the devices, calling them a "distraction."
Liquor Overhaul Bill Would Allow Home Delivery In New Mexico - By Pilar Martinez Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico's liquor laws may undergo their most significant changes in 40 years if legislation allowing for home deliveries and the creation of a new restaurant license gets signed into law.
A bill introduced by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, seeks to make major changes to New Mexico's liquor laws by allowing home delivery of alcohol, and by creating a new restaurant license that would substantially expand the number of establishments allowed to sell spirits, among other changes.
Similar bills have been introduced in recent legislative sessions — most recently in 2019, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed a home alcohol delivery bill. At the time, the Democratic governor said she was open to allowing limited deliveries but vetoed the measure due to provisions she said violated tenets of the Liquor Control Act.
But as New Mexico continues to grapple with the pandemic, House Bill 8 is being touted by the Lujan Grisham administration as a way to support the hospitality industry by providing a new source of revenue for businesses and restaurants "adversely affected by the pandemic."
“The pandemic has shown what a useful tool this legislation would be, and the governor is clear that in addition to being helpful to consumers, it will be a real boon to restaurant revenues,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett wrote in an email to the Albuquerque Journal. “In fact, she pushed for legislation of this type to be approved by the Legislature in the first special session of 2020.”
The bill would mark some of the most significant changes to existing liquor laws since 1981.
Under the legislation, restaurants, grocery and liquor stores, craft distillers, small brewers and bars would all be able to offer home delivery of alcohol. But restaurant deliveries would be limited to beer and wine with a minimum $25 food purchase. Other liquor selling establishments would not have a food restriction or quantity cap.
If passed, the bill could provide a path for bars — which have been closed since March — to bring in revenue through delivery without having to open for on-premise sales.
Matt Kennicott, spokesman for the New Mexico Bar, Entertainment and Nightclub Association, said the organization supports the proposed changes and hopes to see other changes for bars — like the suspension of yearly fees — included in legislation.
"It would allow us a different income-earning opportunity that a lot of our owners don't have right now," he said.
Aside from home delivery, the measure would create a new type of license that would allow restaurants to serve spirits without the purchase of an expensive dispenser license.
Dispenser licenses, which allow for package sales and on-premise consumption of liquor, are notoriously costly to obtain. Currently, only a set amount of liquor licenses are available in the state, and the licenses are treated similarly to private property.
Recent dispenser license sales on the open market have cost buyers about $350,000 — with some types of dispenser licenses going for as much as $750,000 — in addition to yearly fees.
With the creation of the new license, restaurant owners would only have to pay $3,000 every year to be allowed to sell hard liquor.
Previous debates about liquor license reform have faced criticism from some dispenser licensees, who fear changes to the system or the creation of new licenses could devalue their investments.
Tomasita's and Atrisco Cafe and Bar owner George Gundrey, who leases his three liquor licenses, said Wednesday the proposal is unfair to current licensees.
"What they're basically doing is making (the licenses) worth nothing, so obviously that's very problematic," he said. "… The only ethical thing for them to do is somehow reimburse the owners."
Myra Ghattas, owner of Slate Street Cafe and Sixty-Six Acres, said the changes would be huge.
"A lot of people in my position who own restaurants have been working to get that playing field leveled for a long time, because those old laws were really dated," she said.
Ghattas said she has considered pursuing a full liquor license but has never purchased one because of the cost. She said if the legislation passes, she will immediately apply for the new license.
"I think it would significantly help independent local restaurants, who I think have the short end of the stick when it comes to liquor licensing in New Mexico," Ghattas said.
Regulation and Licensing spokeswoman Bernice Geiger said since there are no differences between the newly proposed restaurant license and dispenser licenses for restaurants, there could be business owners who opt to sell their dispenser license to other establishments in favor of the new restaurant license.
Those sales would increase the number of dispenser licenses available.
Geiger said one of the goals is to give people who are priced out of the market the ability to get into the market by decreasing the cost of licenses across the board. She said the bill also aims to give current licensees the flexibility to pivot to new opportunities by allowing the buy-back of lost package privileges or the ability to sell the license in markets that currently are restricted.
Carlsbad Eyes Converting University Branch Into College - Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press
Carlsbad's school board is voicing support for a proposal to convert the New Mexico State University branch campus into an independent community college.
The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the board voted unanimously Tuesday for a pro-conversion resolution.
Mayor Dale Janway last year created a city task force that studied several possible approaches and ultimately presented the state with a report recommending conversion.
Carlsbad officials say their community wants increased flexibility regarding curriculum to meet needs of local employers.
Creating an independent community college would require approval by the state Legislature.
NMSU officials contend Carlsbad is best served through a university campus.