THURS: New Mexico Eases Travel And Hotel Restrictions, + More

Sep 3, 2020

New Mexico Eases Interstate Travel, Hotel RestrictionsAssociated Press

New Mexico is easing its self-quarantine requirements for some interstate travelers in advance of the Labor Day holiday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she will waive quarantine restrictions on travelers as they arrive from low-risk states by land or air starting Friday. Hotel occupancy limits are being raised from 50% to 75% when a certification for safe practices is completed.

And individuals who can show documentation of a valid negative COVID-19 test taken within the 72 hours before or after entry into the state are exempt from the 14-day quarantine requirement.

The state's self-quarantine requirement still will apply to people returning or arriving from "high-risk" states based on coronavirus positivity rates and per-capita infections, including nearby Texas, Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma.

States are considered low risk if they have a 5% positivity rate or lower, or a new case rate below 80 per million residents — each calculated over a 7-day rolling average.

A list of high-risk states will be posted on the state's coronavirus information website.

As of Thursday, low-risk states included Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wyoming and Washington.

Health officials announced 202 newly confirmed coronavirus cases statewide, with one new death on Thursday.

State health officials continue to discourage all nonessential travel, describing it as "an extraordinary risk to yourself, your family, your community and your state."

Daimler Trucks Tests Self-Driving Vehicles In US Southwest - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Daimler Trucks and allied vehicle software company Torc Robotics are expanding their testing of self-driving trucks to public roads in New Mexico along major long-haul freight routes.

The companies have established a new testing center in Albuquerque, as they begin automated runs for 18-wheel vehicles with autonomous diving technology on Southwest highways — supported by a human driver and a safety conductor.

Daimler's Autonomous Technology Group has taken aim at commercializing self-driving trucks within a decade, and the new testing location complements ongoing research on roadways in Virginia with milder weather and fewer steep hills.

Arizona already serves as a major testing ground for autonomous vehicles, including a public-private partnership involving major public universities that was announced in 2018.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey suspended Uber's self-driving vehicle testing privileges in March 2018 in the wake of a pedestrian fatality in a Phoenix suburb.

Daimler's testing routes in New Mexico are not publicly disclosed, though the trucks are prominently labeled as Daimler autonomous-driving vehicles.

In-Person Learning For Some Younger Students In New Mexico - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

Some grade schools in New Mexico will be allowed to have in-person learning next week, but it's unclear how many are signing up.

The majority of counties have low enough COVID-19 case rates to allow for students to attend two days per week.

But Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart says the state will not mandate in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many districts have decided to keep schools online-only through the end of the month. Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest district, has decided against nearly all in-person learning until January.

Stewart says the situation is fluid, and some school boards could announce in-person learning plans for younger students as soon as Friday.

If outbreaks remain low, the state's education department will allow in-person learning up to middle and high schools. For now, the vast majority of students will be working from home.

Access to the internet and compatible devices improved in this poor, rural state since March and April when one in five children couldn't connect to online learning. Yet few schools have been able to connect all students to remote classes, and in some areas half or more students cannot get online.

In several rural districts serving Indigenous students, up to 80 percent do not have access to the internet at home, and about half cannot access the internet at all.

EPA Creates New Colorado Office For Hardrock Mine CleanupAssociated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is dedicating a new office in Colorado to coordinate all federal hardrock mine cleanup efforts west of the Mississippi River.

It's called the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains, and it will steer projects to remediate acidic drainage and other surface and groundwater contamination at mining sites. The Gazette reports that Doug Benevento, the EPA's associate deputy administrator, spoke about the new office at a news conference in Colorado Springs.

It will work with states and tribes impacted by contaminated mining sites as well as other federal agencies. And it will be based at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, alongside other EPA satellite offices. 

Jeremy Nichols, a program director with WildEarth Guardians, an environmental advocacy group, said creating such a small office to deal with hardrock mine cleanup throughout the West is problematic.

New Mexico To Grocery Stores: Stop Taxing Food On Deliveries - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico state taxation authorities on Wednesday urged grocery stores to stop unnecessarily collecting sales taxes on groceries that are delivered during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The state remained under a stay-at-home order Thursday that discourages unnecessary outings and public gatherings. 

At the same time, online shoppers have discovered gross receipts tax charges on home-delivered groceries that are tax free when purchased in stores, undercutting the incentive to stay home. 

The Taxation and Revenue Department published a guidance memo that outlines exact circumstances for waiving taxes on food. 

Taxes are not due when "the customer orders the groceries from the retail food store online and pays the retail food store online with a credit card," the memo states. Taxes still are due on delivery service charges and prepared food from restaurants and stores.

Gross receipt taxes on sales and services range from about 5.5% in rural Catron County to more than 9% within the city of Española.

US Officials Say No New Environmental Study For Nuclear LabAssociated Press

The National Nuclear Security Administration says it doesn't need to do an additional environmental review for Los Alamos National Laboratory before it begins producing key components for the nation's nuclear arsenal.

The agency says it already has sufficient information. Watchdog groups are concerned about Tuesday's announcement, saying the plutonium pit production work will amount to a vast expansion of the lab's nuclear mission and that more analysis should be done.

The government has set a deadline to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. The work will be shared between Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The work is expected to bring jobs and billions of federal dollars to update buildings or construct new factories.

The National Nuclear Security Administration on Tuesday released its final supplemental analysis of a site-wide environmental impact statement done for the lab more than a decade ago. The agency concluded that no further analysis is required.

Critics have pushed for a new environmental impact statement, saying the previous 2008 analysis didn't consider a number of effects related to increased production, such as the pressure it puts on infrastructure, roads and the housing market.

New Mexico Agencies Boost Access Ahead Of Hunting Season - Associated Press

New Mexico land and wildlife managers say they have finished work that will result in more access to state trust land for licensed hunters. 

The Land Office and the Game and Fish Department made the announcement in time for the start of the deer and elk hunting season, which kicked off this week. 

The Game and Fish Department paid the State Land Office $800,000 for an easement that allows access to 8.8 million acres of trust land. 

The agreement also included $200,000 worth of projects that ranged from installing signs to road work and construction of a new campsite on Chupadera Mesa in Socorro County.

Officials say the two agencies also worked to identify and install signs at 67 spots around New Mexico where hunters can access state trust land. The access points are mapped online.

As for the new camping area, officials say it will provide a new opportunity to camp in one of the largest contiguous areas of state trust land in the state.

The State Land Office in July launched pilot programs for new dispersed camping areas in the White Peak region as well as backpack camping permits for the Luera Mountains. The programs were aimed at people with deer and elk tags to hunt in the two areas. The backpack camping permits were all issued by mid-August, but permits for White Peak are still available.

Spaceport America Vets Capital Projects Amid Investigation - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The interim leader of Spaceport America says an investigation into the conduct of the organization's chief executive officer is ongoing and that initial findings are expected in the coming weeks.

Scott McLaughlin testified Wednesday before a New Mexico legislative panel, saying the recent shakeup stemming from a whistleblower complaint filed in June has left the spaceport in a difficult situation.

Dan Hicks was placed on administrative leave after being accused of circumventing internal financial controls and accounting procedures.

State auditors are reviewing the spaceport's finances, and McLaughlin said all capital projects also are being assessed due to the open investigation.

The state Economic Development Department is paying an outside accounting firm to review procurement procedures as well as agreements governing gross receipts tax and the use of revenue generated by the tax.

Spaceport America is billed as the world's first installation built specifically for the burgeoning commercial space industry to ferry paying passengers to the lower fringes of space and launch other payloads into orbit.

While commercial flights have yet to begin, Virgin Galactic — the spaceport's anchor tenant — is preparing for a final round of test flights in the coming months.

Lawmakers didn't ask any questions about the investigation but peppered McLaughlin about the potential for New Mexico to finally see a return on the investments in the spaceport that have been made by the state and the counties of Doña Ana and Sierra.

McLaughlin said it has been a challenging year since many vertical rocket launches and the annual collegiate-level rocket competition hosted by the spaceport had to be scrubbed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pandemic Afflicts Impoverished Areas Of New Mexico - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A top state health official is warning that COVID-19 infections are far more prevalent in low-income areas of New Mexico, potentially straining Medicaid health care.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Wednesday that an analysis of infection rates by census tract shows that highly impoverished areas have infection rates seven times higher than the most affluent zones.

Scrase and Children Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock gave a briefing Wednesday on public health trends and the state's coronavirus response.

State health officials are wary that festivities over the Labor Day holiday weekend could lead to renewed surges in COVID-19 infections.

About 38% of New Mexico residents are enrolled in federally subsidized Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program for people living in poverty or on the cusp.

The state recently relaxed its stay-at-home order to allow public gatherings of 10 people. But masks are a must in public, overnight camping remains off limits at state parks and most interstate travelers are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. A small share of the state's elementary school students return next week to classrooms on a part-time, rotating basis.

Scrase urged people to reschedule medical appointments and diagnostic tests that were suspended at the outset of the virus outbreak, citing a decrease in the number of colonoscopies as a proxy for crucial, deferred procedures.

State health authorities also are urging people to get flu vaccines as early as possible to clear the way for the distribution and application of coronavirus vaccine shots.

New Mexico Reports 154 New COVID-19 Cases And Three More Deaths – KUNM

New Mexico health officials reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total since the pandemic to 25,612.

Doña Ana County had the most new cases at 33, followed by Bernalillo County in central New Mexico and Chaves County in southern New Mexico, each with 24 cases.

There were also three more deaths. All three people had underlying conditions. That brings the total number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New Mexico to 790.

The highest number of cases continues to be among people in their 20s, followed by those in their 30s. That’s according to the New Mexico Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard.

Native Americans make up 32% of cases and Hispanics or Latinos make up 44%. Anglos make up 14% of cases.

Navajo Nation To Run Partial Weekend Lockdown Into September Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials are extending partial weekend lockdowns and daily curfews through September to help control the spread of the coronavirus on the tribe's reservation.

The lockdowns on the vast reservation in the Four Corners region start at 9 p.m. Saturday and run until 5 a.m. Monday. Daily curfews run from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

President Jonathan Nez says residents still have time on Saturdays to prepare for the winter season by gathering firewood, food, water and other supplies.

But the public should avoid traveling to nearby towns and cities on the weekends. Travel increases the risk of infection and bringing it home to family.

Drone Damaged After Going Off Runway At New Mexico Air BaseAssociated Press

An Air Force attack drone was damaged Wednesday when it went off a runway during takeoff at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico, the military said.

The remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 49th Wing was the only aircraft involved, base officials said in a statement.

A board of Air Force officers will investigate the accident to determine the cause, the statement said.

The base is 79 miles north of El Paso, Texas.