THURS: Breweries To Re-Open As Officials Report 10 Additional COVID-19 Deaths, + More

Jun 11, 2020

Breweries Allowed To Re-Open As Officials Report 10 New COVID-19 DeathsAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal

The rate of transmission of COVID-19 is falling in New Mexico and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday that breweries will be allowed to re-open around the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reported they can re-open outdoor and patio seating at 50% capacity starting Friday. On Monday, they will be able to open indoor dining at 50% capacity, as restaurants are currently allowed to do.

New Mexico is reporting an additional 121 coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total 9,367.

The Health Department on Thursday also reported 10 new deaths, raising the death toll to 420. McKinley and San Juan counties in the northwestern corner of the state continue to account for more than half of the confirmed infections.

Prison facilities also remain hotspots of the outbreak. More than 600 cases have been reported among inmates being held at federal and state lockups in New Mexico.

State officials continued Thursday to urge residents to stay at home and wear face coverings when out in public. They said the rate of spread was improving as is New Mexico's testing capacity but more work still needs to be done.

Besieged Hospital On Edge Of Navajo Nation Fires CEO - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The board of a rural New Mexico hospital that was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic has fired the chief executive.

An email sent to staff at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup today said the CEO's termination was effective immediately and a search would begin soon for a replacement.

The hospital came under fire in recent weeks after it laid off nurses in March and then was overwhelmed by the pandemic. Some employees protested inadequate staffing and urged CEO David Conejo to resign.

Dozens of hospital staff contracted the virus as doctors and nurses scrambled to attend to critically ill COVID-19 patients, eventually opting to transfer patients with severe respiratory problems to health care facilities in Albuquerque.

Conejo has defended his handling of the pandemic and said decisions on staffing and medical care were not his alone.

Officials from McKinley County, which owns and leases the hospital to a private operator, grew frustrated trying to audit hospital finances and threatened in May to cut off property tax funding. State Auditor Brian Colón entered the fray in mid-May to negotiate the release of hospital financial documents.

Navajo Residents Urged To Stay The Course, Keep Curve FlatAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 125 new coronavirus cases and five new related deaths on the reservation.

The death toll is approaching 300 and reservation-wide cases totaled 6,275 as of Wednesday. Tribal officials said preliminary reports from 11 health care facilities indicate nearly 3,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more reports pending.

Navajo officials are cautioning tribal members about letting up their guard too soon while the pandemic remains a serious threat throughout U.S. In Arizona, health care officials are reporting spikes in new cases and hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst.

Watchdog Says Agency Misspent Money Meant For Migrant Care - By Astrid Galvan, Associated Press

A new report by a federal watchdog says the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency misspent millions of dollars meant for migrant care during the 2019 surge in border crossings.

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office was released Thursday. It says that CBP, while dealing with a massive increase in the number of border crossers that year, spent money that Congress allocated for migrant care on things like all-terrain vehicles and its police dog program.

The agency said it spent money on lawful items, the violations identified were technical and prompt remedial action will be taken.

New Mexico Governor Wants Voting Reform, Police Body Cameras - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Democratic governor wants the Legislature to wade into potentially volatile issues of election procedure and police accountability during a special session next week that was initially scheduled for budget matters. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that she'll broaden the scope of the session to include possible election reforms amid concerns about ballot tally delays in New Mexico's June 2 primary. 

She also called for Legislation to mandate body cameras for all law enforcement agencies amid protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

“We should capture this moment,” Lujan Grisham said. “This is another civil rights movement in this country.”

New Mexico Governor Seeks To Sustain State Spending, Raises - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging state lawmakers to tap state reserves and federal recovery money to preserve some state spending increases, including a 2% pay bump for public school personnel and state workers. 

The comments on Wednesday came as New Mexico state lawmakers confront a harrowing decline in annual state government income linked to economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. 

State government economists on Wednesday revised estimates for state government income downward by $439 million for the current fiscal year ending on June 30 and by just under $2 billion for the coming fiscal year.

Estimated revenues for the coming fiscal year are estimated at $5.9 billion. The budget signed in mid-March would have increased state general fund spending by nearly 8% to $7.6 billion, with 4% pay increases at schools and state agencies.

Lujan Grisham is recommending budget revisions that scale back increases at most state agencies by 4%. 

To sustain some increased spending, Lujan Grisham proposed tapping $750 million in federal coronavirus recovery act funds — despite current restrictions that prohibit using those dollars to backfill lost state revenues. The state would tap half of its financial reserves, which stood at $1.9 billion.

Lujan Grisham said it was important to resist the temptation to reduce government spending and services dramatically and run the risk of aggravating problems of poverty and public safety.

Census Workers To Resume Delivering Packets To Navajo Homes - Associated Press

Census workers will resume dropping off questionnaires at homes on the Navajo Nation this week. 

The tribe's legislative branch says the work to deliver paper packets to more than 70,000 homes begins Thursday. 

The operation began in mid-March but quickly was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The U.S. Census Bureau says it has trained staff in social distancing and given workers protective equipment. 

People who receive the packets can fill out the census using the paper forms, by phone or online.

According to the Census Bureau, less than 1% of Navajos have responded on their own so far. 


Head Of New Mexico's African American Affairs Office Resigns - Associated Press

The head of the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs is stepping down. Executive Director William Scott Carreathers didn't provide a reason for his resignation. 

Carreathers' move follows Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's recent announcement that she was forming a Council for Racial Justice in response to protests over the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. 

State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a member of the new council, told the Santa Fe New Mexican she believes Carreathers' resignation was a result of miscommunication that somehow he was not informed about the council.

There also has been ongoing frustration among New Mexico's black community about the role of the Office of African American Affairs, along with budgetary and salary discrepancies between it and other state agencies, said David Cooper, the leader of a regional group of African American ministers.

Cooper, a bishop at New Hope Full Gospel Baptist Church in Albuquerque and president of the Minister's Fellowship of Albuquerque and Vicinity, said attempts to elevate the office into a cabinet-level agency have been stymied under several governors, including Lujan Grisham.

Lujan Grisham spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the governor's office was in contact with the Office of African American Affairs the day it announced the new council and that "the intent was and remains for that office to, of course, play a role on that council going forward."

Sackett said the governor hopes to hire a "dynamic new director" in the near future given the importance of the office. She did not say who would be in charge during the search for Carreathers' successor.

Agency To Provide Covid-19 Tests At Offices For Food Workers - Associated Press

State officials are setting aside time slots for food industry workers for COVID-19 testing at numerous New Mexico Department of Health field offices statewide. 

The Department of Health says the testing time slots each Monday morning will be for people who work at establishments such as restaurants, grocery stories, farmers markets, distribution centers and food manufacturing facilities. 

The department says the effort should help identify, isolate and trace new cases. 

New Mexico health officials Wednesday reported 147 new coronavirus cases with 6 additional deaths related to COVID-19.

That increases the total number of cases in New Mexico to 9,250 and the statewide death toll to 410. 

Report: Closures Cost New Mexico Students Months Of Learning - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

Legislative researchers say only half of New Mexico's students were engaged in online learning after schools shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

A report released Wednesday also says one in five students were unable to connect to online learning in public schools. 

The report states that the learning loss was exacerbated by guidance from the state Public Education Department that teachers focus on reviewing previously learned material. Other states had promoted the teaching of new material.

The findings estimate that the average public school student has lost three months to a year of schooling.

Many summer learning programs also are being cancelled or trimmed. 

The report concludes that the state must prioritize safely reopening schools in the fall in order to stem continued learning losses.

As for spending on education, the pandemic also tanked global oil demand, depriving the state of royalties and contributed to an expected $2 billion budget shortfall. Lawmakers will gather for a special session June 18 to address the shortfall.

New Mexico Issues Penalties For Dumping Of Drilling Water - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are penalizing two companies for illegally dumping produced water resulting from oil and gas operations. 

The state Oil Conservation Division says the water was dumped on state trust lands and on a road in Lea County. 

Windmill Trucking of Lovington and Houston-based Advanced Energy Partners Hat Mesa are accused of transporting the produced water without a proper license, dumping it on public land and failing to report the release to the state. 

The owner of the trucking company denies the allegations, saying he was surprised to learn of the state's claims after having run his business for nearly a decade with no problems.

New rules adopted in February allow the Oil Conservation Division to issue administrative penalties for violations of the state Oil and Gas Act. Fines start at $2,500 a day for each violation and can go as high as $10,000 a day for violations that pose a risk to the environment or public health and safety.

Female Bear And Cubs Returned To Wilderness In New Mexico - Associated Press

A female bear and three cubs found raiding the neighborhood trash in Los Alamos have been safely captured and moved to a new, more appropriate hunting ground in the countryside of western New Mexico.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says seven conservation officers worked around the clock over two days to capture and relocate the four bears. 

They were all healthy and had not been captured by the agency in the past. 

The agency says the bears were in danger of getting used to finding their food in neighborhoods where people live. 

Department Director Mike Sloane says people who live in cities can help wildlife by trying not to leave out things like pet food and open trash receptacles in their yards and neighborhoods that can attract bears and other wild animals.