THURS: Hospital Officials Warn State At Pivotal Point As Daily Virus Cases Top 1,000, + More

Oct 28, 2020

Hospital Officer Says New Mexico At Pivotal Point With Virus - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The chief medical officer for the largest hospital system in New Mexico says the state is at a pivotal point involving the coronavirus.

Dr. Jason Mitchell with Presbyterian Healthcare Services says the data is clear that the state stands to face severe pressure on its health care system if the spread of COVID-19 continues at its current rate.

New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began, with state officials saying the number of people in hospital beds due to a COVID-19 infection has increased more than 50% in just seven days.

The number of deaths also are on the rise as daily case counts have increased more than 15% in the past seven days compared to the previous week. In all, nearly 1,000 people have died in New Mexico and Thursday's 1,082 confirmed infections smashed a record that was set just days ago.

Mitchell warned that by December, equipment like ventilators would have to be shared and hospitals would have to set up tents in parking lots to make room for patients.

New Mexico's top health officials and hospital administrators are concerned that people are not following the state's public health order, which calls for residents to stay at home as much as possible and avoid contact with other people.

They are pleading with people to find other ways to celebrate Halloween rather than letting their children go door to door in search for treats.

The hospital officials also stressed the state mandate for mask wearing. It's the focus of a new public service campaign launched by Presbyterian that features ads showing people wearing face coverings and a call to protect moms, dads, grandparents and others by "masking up."

Colorado's Newest State Park Plans Partial Weekend OpeningDenver Post, Associated Press

A small portion of the newest state park in Colorado is scheduled to open beginning this weekend.

The Denver Post reports Fishers Peak State Park is expected to open following a ribbon cutting Friday by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. The new park eventually will encompass 30 square miles, but less than 1 square mile will open this weekend.

Fishers Peak is located 7 miles north of the New Mexico border. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say they want the limited opening to give the public a sense of the hiking, hunting and wildlife opportunities the park will offer.

Colorado is on the list of restricted states under the governor’s public health order so if New Mexico residents visit they must quarantine upon return to New Mexico.

GOP Lawsuit Over Ballot Drop Boxes DismissedAssociated Press

A lawsuit by the New Mexico Republican Party was dismissed Thursday after security concerns were addressed at drop boxes for absentee ballots in Guadalupe and Taos counties.

GOP officials used the lawsuit to insist that drop-off boxes for ballots be supervised or kept under video surveillance at all times.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said more than 660,000 votes had been cast as of Thursday morning, closing in the 2008 high mark for participation of about 833,000.

In-person early voting concludes Saturday, before polling locations open again on Election Day.

The independent election monitoring group Common Cause has voiced concerns about the presence of pro-Trump vehicle caravans outside polling locations in Albuquerque.

Republican Party officials say a member of the Democratic Party in Alamogordo has been striking up uncomfortable and confrontational conversations with voters outside polling locations.

Toulouse Oliver said election officials and law enforcement agencies are on alert for acts of interference or intimidation at the polls.

Donald Trump lost New Mexico in 2016 by 8 percentage points to Democrat Hillary Clinton, with 9% of ballots going to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former governor of the state.

New Mexico is picking a new U.S. senator to succeed Democrat Tom Udall as he retires. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is vying for the seat against former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.

Republican Alexis Johnson is vying with Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez for the 3rd Congressional District seat to succeed Luján.

A rematch is underway in a congressional swing district along the border with Mexico, where first-term U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is defending her seat against Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell.

Clint Eastwood To Direct 'Cry Macho' In New MexicoAssociated Press

Warner Bros. has announced production of a new Clint Eastwood film is set to take place in New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the 90-year-old Oscar winner will direct and star in the film "Cry Macho." No other cast member has been announced.

The casting agency said production is scheduled from Nov. 4 through Dec. 16 in the Albuquerque area. The film is based on the book of the same name by Richard Nash.

Eastwood will play a one-time rodeo star and horse breeder in 1978 who takes a job from a former boss to bring the man's young son home. The film follows their journey from rural Mexico on their way back to Texas.

Eastwood was last in New Mexico in 2018 with the production of "The Mule." The Motion Picture Association of America said the production filmed for six days in the Las Cruces area, spending about $1.3 million locally.

Extras casting is currently underway for the project.

Trump Officials End Gray Wolf Protections Across Most Of US - By Matthew Brown, John Flesher and Jim Mone Associated Press

The Trump administration has removed gray wolves in most of the U.S. from the endangered species list. Thursday's action ends longstanding federal safeguards for the predators in the Lower 48 states, except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.

The announcement just days ahead of the election could allow hunting of the animals to resume in Great Lakes states -- a battleground region in the presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Gray wolves have recovered from near extinction in parts of the country but remain absent from much of their historical range. Biologists who reviewed the administration's plan to strip protection from wolves say it lacked scientific justification.


Remote Learning Fails Many New Mexico Students, Report Says - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

Legislative analysts say many New Mexico public school students are failing classes because remote learning isn't as effective as classroom instruction.

In the report made public on Wednesday, a survey of teachers by the analysts found that 20% of students aren't connecting to school at all and 40% are failing to regularly complete classwork.

The report found the school closures have disproportionately impacted low-income students who are less likely to have access to the internet to participate in online learning and more likely to live in districts with little or no in-person learning options.

In the rural southern community of Hatch, nearly 80% of middle and high school students are failing at least one class, the report said.

In larger schools districts like Santa Fe, half of middle and high school students are failing. The report recommends adding more days to the school year to make up for lost learning.

New Mexico is one of seven states that has limited much of its in-person public school instruction, with virtually all middle and high school students studying remotely five days per week.

More than half of the state's school districts have reopened elementary schools in a hybrid model where students attend classes two days weekly. Some special education students also go to school for classes.

About a quarter of the state's school districts were approved by the Public Education Department to run hybrid models but decided against doing so, including the two largest districts in the state — Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

The legislative analysts warned lawmakers that under current conditions, students could face up to 14 months of learning losses.

State Senator Pivots From Fugitive To Reformer - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A state senator who fled home because of threatening phone messages after criticizing a protest against coronavirus restrictions says he plans to pursue reforms that make police more responsive to threats against elected officials — including those who may be especially vulnerable to discrimination. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria fled his Albuquerque home on Sunday with his husband in response to an abusive caller who threatened to "get you out one way or another." 

The openly gay legislator said Tuesday that an adequate security plan is now in place to protect him and his husband with support from members of the Albuquerque and state police departments.

But Candelaria said he remains unsatisfied with the initial response from law enforcement agencies — state police arrived more than 12 hours after threat was called in — given the context of his life and work as an openly gay, Latino legislator who advocates for racial justice and police reforms.

He thanked legislative colleagues from across the political spectrum, including Senate President Mary Kay Papen and Democratic majority leader Peter Wirth, for their outspoken support. 

Candelaria is vying for reelection to his West Albuquerque district against Republican challenger Manuel Lardizabal, who is running a tough-on-crime campaign that highlights his opposition to abortion and support for government austerity.

Candelaria said he has been able to return to work remotely but that his husband, a resident physician at an Albuquerque hospital, had not as of Tuesday. He declined to say when they would return home on the advice of a security consultant.

New Mexico Reports 663 New COVID-19 Cases And Record Daily Deaths At 11 - Associated Press, KUNM

New Mexico health officials reported 11 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the most the state has seen in one day. 663 new cases of the virus were also reported.

The latest numbers increase the state's totals to 43,826 cases and 991 known deaths. 

New Mexico Department of Health officials say 273 of the new coronavirus cases were in Bernalillo County, the state's largest that includes Albuquerque, along with four of the latest deaths. 

They say hospitalizations also are four times what they were at the end of September with a record 313 people currently being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals around the state, up from 205 on Tuesday.

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 71 new confirmed coronavirus cases but no new deaths for the eighth time in the last nine days. 

The latest figures bring the total number of cases on the reservation to 11,462, with the known death toll remaining at 575.

Navajo Energy Company In Talks Over Coal-Fired Power Plant – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Negotiations between New Mexico's largest electric utility and the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. could determine whether the tribe acquires a stake in one of the Southwest's few remaining coal-fired power plants.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico officials say the negotiations over the Four Corners Power Plant are in their final stages.

The New Mexico utility would be able to divest itself from the plant as early as 2024 and the Navajo company would get up to $75 million for exiting early.

New Mexico regulators must approve any deal between the tribal company and the utility.

PNM's vice president for generation Tom Fallgren said the utility would divest from Four Corners by December 2024 under a proposal that calls for the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to take over all rights and obligations related to PNM's 13% share in the plant.

Fallgren told the Albuquerque Journal PNM hopes to complete the deal in a couple of weeks.

Arizona Public Service Co. is the owner and operator of Four Corners, with a 63% stake. The Salt River Project owns 10% and Tucson Electric Power has 7%.

PNM predicts its customers could collectively save about $100 million on their bills with the utility's early exit from Four Corners.

However, customers would still pick up the costs of pending liabilities after 2031, plus the cost of replacing Four Corners electricity with other resources.

Under New Mexico's Energy Transition Act, the utility must replace its coal and natural gas plants with renewables by 2045.

New Mexico Pueblo Leadership Council Gets New Chairman – Associated Press

A leadership council that represents Native American pueblos across New Mexico has a new chairman.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors announced Tuesday that Wilfred Herrera Jr. of Laguna Pueblo will serve as chairman after J. Michael Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo submitted his resignation.

Chavarria cited personal reasons for his decision to step down but didn't provide any details. The council is considering whether to hold a special election early next year to fill the remainder of Chavarria's two-year term.

During his time on the council, Chavarria has been outspoken about issues ranging from education to the protection of cultural sites.

He had testified numerous times before state and federal officials this year about extending protection to areas outside the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

Navajo Nation Seeks More Paper Applications For Virus Funds - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

The Navajo Nation says it's working to release more paper applications for a tribal hardship assistance program after application shortages caused challenges for chapters and tribal members. 

The Navajo Nation Office of the Controller made applications available Monday to enrolled members of the tribe who are 65 and older or who have disabilities. 

The Gallup Independent reports The Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program applications are open to all other enrolled tribal members starting Nov. 2. The deadline to apply is Nov. 30. 

The maximum financial assistance amount is $1,500 for people 18 and older and $500 for minors, officials said. The first checks are expected to be mailed in early December.

However, the department said only 3,000 applications were printed over the weekend and distributed to the Navajo Nation's 110 chapters. 

The department said the delay was because the application is printed on a certain type of paper that is also used for election ballots, and because they are numbered to prevent fraud.

Controller Pearline Kirk said 200,000 more applications will be made available to the chapters. The printed applications are intended for those who cannot fill out the application online. 

August Trial Set For Airman Charged In Arizona Killing - Arizona Daily Sun, Associated Press

The trial for a U.S. Air Force airman charged in the kidnapping and death of a Sunday school teacher is set to begin next year. 

Mark Gooch has pleaded not guilty to the shooting death of 27-year-old Sasha Krause. 

The Mennonite woman disappeared from her church community outside Farmington, New Mexico, in January as she was gathering material for a Sunday school class. Her body was later found in a forest clearing outside Flagstaff, Arizona.

The Arizona Daily Sun reports that Gooch's trial is scheduled to start in August and last three weeks. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the case.

Gooch is being held at the Coconino County jail in Flagstaff on a $2 million cash-only bond. 

Gooch grew up in a Mennonite family in Wisconsin and told authorities he joined the military to escape a difficult, sheltered and restricted life.

Authorities have not said what they believe might have led Gooch to Krause.