MON: UNM Temporarily Halts Vaccination Clinic At Pit, Deputy Fatally Shoots Suspect, + More

Feb 1, 2021


New Mexico Vaccine Clinic Stops Giving Shots Temporarily - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

One of New Mexico's largest vaccination clinics is hitting the pause button and will temporarily stop giving vaccines after administering shots for more than a week.

University of New Mexico Health Sciences officials say they want to ensure they have enough doses to give booster shots to people who have received their first shots. The clinic at the university's arena, also known as The Pit, is expected to be closed through Saturday.

The clinic was administering around 1,600 doses per day, with a goal of eventually hitting 3,000 shots daily. An official said the intent is still to hit that mark as soon as more vaccine doses are available.

State officials said Monday that they are not aware of any other providers planning to halt vaccination operations this week.

New Mexico is receiving about 56,000 doses per week. New Mexico Department of Health spokesman Matt Bieber said that's expected to continue over the next three weeks, representing a 16% increase in allocations.

He said those doses are being distributed to an ever-expanding network of providers around the state.

Data from the state Health Department shows that 98% of the 278,800 doses that have been shipped to New Mexico so far already have been administered.

About one-quarter of New Mexico's population has registered with the state to receive vaccinations.

Under the plan, health care workers, first responders and residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities were among the first to get inoculated. The current phase includes people 75 and older and younger people with preexisting health conditions that put them at greater risk.

Grocery store employees and other essential workers who are unable to work remotely are next on the list, with the state expecting to begin vaccinations for the general public around midyear.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico since the pandemic began last year have topped 174,000, including 487 new cases on Monday and 12 additional deaths.

The state's seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has been dropping in recent weeks while the rolling average of daily deaths was nearly flat.

New Mexico Seeks Intervention In Federal Contamination Case - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is challenging a decision by a federal court to combine the state's lawsuit over contamination at U.S. Air Force bases with similar litigation brought by hundreds of other jurisdictions.

The New Mexico attorney general's office and the state Environment Department are petitioning the U.S. Court of Appeals to keep the case separate.

They argue that the previous court decision was a violation of the state's sovereignty and could result in extreme delays that have the potential to further endanger public health and the environment.

New Mexico sued the Air Force in 2019 over groundwater contamination at Cannon and Holloman air bases, saying the federal government has a responsibility to clean up plumes of toxic chemicals left behind by past military firefighting activities.

The contamination is linked to a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The state in court documents describes the contamination detected at Cannon and Holloman as shocking, saying it migrated offsite into public and private wells that provide drinking water and livestock and irrigation water to the surrounding communities.

The state said New Mexico's dairy industry has been affected along with residential and commercial property values.

If the petition is granted, state officials say the case would be transferred from the U.S. District of South Carolina to the federal court in New Mexico, clearing the way for a motion to move forward that seeks to force the government to start cleaning up.

Similar contamination has been found at dozens of military sites across the nation. Growing evidence that exposure can be dangerous has prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider setting a maximum level for the chemicals in drinking water nationwide.

Currently only non-enforceable drinking water health advisories are in place.

Meanwhile, New Mexico officials said they will continue using state resources to investigate the extent of the contamination around Clovis and Alamogordo.

Navajo Nation Confirms 103 New COVID-19 Cases, 4 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 103 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths.

The latest numbers released Sunday raised the totals to 28,325 cases and 1,018 known deaths since the pandemic began.

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 on Monday 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.

Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy Shoots, Kills SuspectAssociated Press

Authorities in Bernalillo County say a man was killed by a deputy after fleeing the scene of a fight where a shot had reportedly been fired.

Sheriff Manny Gonzales said at a news conference early Monday that the shooting is the first deputy-involved shooting since the agency began incorporating body cameras on all officers.

The incident began when deputies were enroute to a call about a possible fight in the South Valley area and were told there was gun fire.

When they arrived, deputies followed a suspect on foot.

Gonzales says it's not clear after that how much gunfire was exchanged but that a bullet from one deputy hit the suspect.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. No deputies were injured.

The sheriff says all the officers had their body cameras on. The shooting is under investigation.

The suspect has not yet been identified.

Gonzales last month unveiled body cameras that are being worn by all 310 deputies in the wake of a newly approved state law requiring law enforcement to have them.

Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque, has agreed to a more than $3 million, five-year contract for the BodyWorn camera by Utility, Inc.

Virgin Galactic Sets New Mexico Flight Test DateAssociated Press

Virgin Galactic has set the date for a rocket-powered test flight this month in southern New Mexico following work to correct a problem that prevented ignition on its last attempt.

The company says Monday the flight window will open Feb. 13, with opportunities to fly through the remainder of the month. The spaceship will be flown by two pilots and carry research payloads under a NASA program.

The problem occurred Dec. 12 on what was planned to be the spacecraft's first flight into space from Spaceport America.

Instead, its computer triggered a fail-safe scenario that prevented ignition and the craft safely glided to a landing.

The test program is working toward the start of commercial passenger flights from Spaceport America.

The spacecraft made two previous suborbital space flights over the Southern California desert, where it was developed and built.


Legislator Tests Positive For Coronavirus Within Capitol - Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

The Democratic speaker of the state House is restricting access by lawmakers to the House floor and closing off conference rooms after the disclosure that a Republican legislator tested positive for COVID-19, along with several earlier positive tests among legislative staff.

Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Friday that he will begin restricting in-person access to House floor sessions to himself and one additional person from each political party.

That would establish almost entirely online participation in House committee hearings and floor debates. The Capitol is closed to the public.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports House Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia, filed a lawsuit with the New Mexico Supreme Court Saturday, arguing the changes are unconstitutional and asking that the high court prohibit their enforcement.

Republican Reps. Rod Montoya of Farmington and Larry Scott of Hobbs are also named as plaintiffs in the suit. Speaker Brian Egolf and the Legislative Council are named as defendants.

Townsend said the COVID-positive male lawmaker is asymptomatic and doing fine. The legislator's name has not been made public.

The Senate devises its own participation rules and pandemic precautions. It is holding committee meetings by video conference while convening occasional floor sessions with in-person attendance or the option of participating online from an office within the state Capitol complex.

Egolf said three people have tested positive for the coronavirus at a pop-up testing site in the Capitol building since Jan. 21, the third day of a 60-day legislative session.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday extended a public health emergency order without changes to the state's color-coded, county-by-county reopening criteria.

A statewide mask mandate remains in place with tight restrictions on restaurant dining and nonessential business across most of the state.

New Mexico Tribe Sues US Over Hospital Closure Amid Pandemic - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A New Mexico Indigenous tribe is suing the U.S. government, claiming federal health officials have violated the law by ending emergency and in-patient medical care at a hospital on tribal lands.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said during a briefing Friday that the tribe's pleas have fallen on deaf ears and that the lack of emergency health care services could not have come at a worse time as COVID-19 continues to take a toll on his community.

Vallo said tribal officials have talked numerous times with the Indian Health Service about the closure of the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Service Unit hospital and have pointed to a requirement that the agency provide a year's notice of any planned hospital closures. The lawsuit is asking that current levels of service be maintained until a year after notice is given to Congress.

Criticism of the Indian Health Service and chronic funding inadequacies have spanned decades and numerous presidential administrations. Lawyers for Acoma said the closure of the hospital marks the latest example as the agency moves to downsize smaller hospitals in favor of having centralized health care facilities.

Tribal officials also highlighted the availability of federal coronavirus relief funding, but Vallo said the agency has refused to tap that money to help address what he called "a life-and-death situation" at Acoma.

He said at least one tribal member who had a heart attack died because emergency services were no longer available at the hospital.

Vallo said court action was the tribe's only option.

The Indian Health Service said in a statement that there are not enough health care workers to provide inpatient and emergency department services at the hospital, which serves Acoma and other neighboring tribal communities.

The agency also disputed claims that it was required to give advance notice of the hospital's closure since it was considered a temporary move that resulted from safety concerns due to the lack of staff.

Indian Health Service spokesman Joshua Barnett said the agency remains committed to providing comprehensive care to Acoma patients but acknowledged that permanent changes would be coming.

In an initial ruling Friday, a judge dismissed the agency’s claims that shutting down the hospital was within the government’s discretion and granted the pueblo's request for a temporary restraining order calling for services be maintained for at least two weeks until a hearing on a preliminary injunction.

New  Mexico Reports 53 New COVID-19 Cases And 18 More Deaths - Associated Press, KUNM

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 530 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths. 

The latest numbers increased the state's pandemic totals to 174,064 cases and 3,283 known deaths. 

The county with the most new cases was Bernalillo with 134. All other counties saw well under 100 new cases. The next highest case count was in Doña Ana County, which saw 61 cases Sunday. 

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. 

479 patients were hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19 as of Sunday.

New Mexico's seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped in the past two weeks while the rolling average of daily deaths was nearly flat.

Navajo Nation Reports 135 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials reported 135 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths. The latest numbers released Saturday night raised the totals to 28,717 cases and 1,014 known deaths since the pandemic began. 

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

County Commission Wants Los Alamos Lab To Conduct Study - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The Santa Fe County Commission wants Los Alamos National Laboratory to conduct a site-wide environmental review of the potential effects that could come from production of the plutonium cores used in the nation's nuclear arsenal. 

The commission on Tuesday approved a resolution outlining its wishes.

The lab plans to increase production to 30 cores per year by 2026. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the last site-wide review at the northern New Mexico lab was done 13 years ago. 

Officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear stockpile, determined last year that an updated review wasn't needed because there was already sufficient information.

But Santa Fe Commissioner Anna Hansen said it's unconscionable that the nuclear agency and the U.S. Energy Department are ignoring the demands of elected officials and the public for a new analysis.

“County commissioners are charged with the protection of the health and safety of their citizens,” she said. “And doing a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement is just a basic protection of constituents, citizens of Santa Fe County, to protect them from what may or may not happen in Los Alamos.”

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico spoke in support of the resolution during Tuesday's meeting. He said the review needs to consider the safety concerns that could result from wildfires in the area. He pointed to the Cerro Grande blaze in 2000 that forced the evacuation of Los Alamos and the temporary closure of the national lab. 

That fire also brought to the forefront concerns about radioactive waste that was stored on lab property and potential contamination if the barrels were destroyed or damaged.

“It’s good for both the public and the lab,” he said of a review. “I don’t think they should be viewed as against the laboratory. It’s simply following federal law.”

The resolution delineates some of the safety issues the lab has experienced over the years. For example, nuclear regulator officials reported in 2017 that the lab didn't meet critical safety expectations. That same year, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found lab workers were possibly exposed to lethal doses of radiation. 

In 2014, an inappropriately packed drum of radioactive waste from the lab ruptured and forced the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad for three years.

“These dramatic developments remind us that a new LANL SWEIS, with full public participation is required before any of the expansion plans are considered,” Hansen said.

Cowboys For Trump Leader Refuses Virus Test In Jail - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The jailed leader of Cowboys for Trump has been held in solitary isolation for two weeks as he refused to take a coronavirus test and rejected initial offers to speak with an attorney or judge following his arrest in connection with the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, a federal judge said Friday in a court order.

Couy Griffin, a county commissioner from southern New Mexico and founder of a horseback-riding group of Donald Trump promoters, has been charged by federal prosecutors with knowingly entering the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government business.

He was arrested later on Jan. 17 as he returned to Washington, vowing opposition to President Joe Biden's election victory and inauguration.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui on Friday threatened Griffin with contempt of court if he fails to appear in coming days at a detention hearing by phone or video conference. He notes that Griffin has been yelling at officers and banging on his jail cell door.

Griffin has said he wasn't involved in violence at the U.S. Capitol and never went inside the building as he waded among throngs of Trump supporters on an outer balcony. 

Federal prosecutors want Griffin held without bail as a flight risk and danger to others.

Faruqui says Griffin's own actions led to his solitary confinement.

Albuquerque To Test Electric Passenger Bus On City Route - Associated Press

City officials in New Mexico have welcomed back electric buses after failed attempts in years past with the Albuquerque Rapid Transit. 

Transit Department Director Danny Holcomb said on Friday that the electric bus service was set to begin operations on Saturday on a single route. 

Holcomb said multiple routes will be added to test how the vehicle's battery life will be affected. 

Holcomb said the 40-foot bus can carry 37 passengers and is expected to run up to 175 miles a day in one charge. 

The leased bus will serve as a test, as the city anticipates purchasing five before the end of the year. Each bus will cost about $925,000. A federal grant awarded to the city will cover about $725,000, while additional grants are expected to cover the remaining amount.

The new buses are different from the ART buses that were sent back after officials said they failed safety standards, KOB-TV reported.

The new buses will not be able to serve the Albuquerque Rapid Transit route, because they are too short, too low and don't have the ability to adjust their height at the ART platforms.

The push to adopt electric buses began after Mayor Tim Keller pledged to make Albuquerque a 100% renewable energy city by 2030.

2 Arrested In More Than 80 Metro Albuquerque Home Robberies - KOB-TV, Associated Press

Police in Albuquerque say two suspects have been arrested for allegedly being involved in more than 80 home burglaries. 

They say 18-year-old Jesse Mascareno-Haidle and a 17-year-old boy were arrested Friday after police launched a detailed investigation into dozens of home invasions in the metro Albuquerque area.  

The teen's name is not being released because he's a juvenile.

It was unclear Sunday if either Mascareno-Haidle or the teenager had a lawyer yet.

Police said the two suspects are accused of several home burglaries and stealing vehicles from many of the residences. 

Albuquerque TV station KOB reports that police found a pattern with many of the incidents.

That included homes backed up to open space, which allowed burglars to enter the homes from unlocked back doors or windows in the middle of the night. 

The burglars would then allegedly flee in the homeowners' vehicles. 

Police said detectives then identified Mascareno-Haidle and the juvenile as suspects as their images allegedly were captured multiple times on surveillance video. 

During the arrests, police said they recovered two firearms, a firearm suppressor, TVs, laptops, Xboxes, phones and keys to stolen cars. 

Police believe the suspects may have also burglarized six locations in Los Lunas.