THURS: New Mexico Prepares For Extended School Closures As COVID-19 Cases Rise To 136, + More

Mar 26, 2020

New Mexico Prepares For More Cases, Extended School Closures – Associated Press

The number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Mexico rose to 136 Thursday, a day after health officials confirmed the state's first COVID-19 related death.

The state Public Education Department also says an announcement regarding an extension to the school closure period is expected Friday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham first announced the school closure March 13, saying it would be in effect at least through April 3 and possibly longer, depending on conditions.

The governor on Thursday also formally requested that the U.S. Defense Department establish a staffed 248-bed U.S. Army combat support hospital in Albuquerque as a proactive measure to boost the state’s treatment capacity.

In Santa Fe County, the public defender's office closed Tuesday after one of its attorneys tested positive for the virus. The Santa Fe County jail already had stopped in-person visits, and the district court had switched to holding proceedings by phone.

New Mexico Sees Major Jump In Unemployment Claims Amid Virus - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

More than 17,000 New Mexico residents applied for unemployment benefits amid the widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus,

The numbers released Thursday show the jump in New Mexico is more than 19 times the number of claims the previous week. The U.S. Department of Labor says New Mexico saw 17,187 people apply for unemployment benefits last week compared to 869 the week before.

State Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley says the state has never seen a spike like this before.

The latest numbers come as oil and gas prices continue to fall — hurting one of New Mexico's most robust industries. 

Settlement Reached In Death Of Electrocuted Santa Fe WorkerAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The city of Santa Fe and the New Mexico Environment Department have reached a settlement involving the death of a city employee who was electrocuted in April 2019.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that the agreement happened about a year after Tobin Williams was electrocuted while trying to replace a light fixture at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. He had no training as an electrician.

No lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the family. The settlement says the city would pay $120,000, with more than half dedicated to training and safety improvements.

City spokeswoman Lilia Chacon declined comment until the settlement is official.

State's Largest Jail Releases Some Inmates Amid Virus WorryAssociated Press

The largest municipal jail in New Mexico is releasing some inmates who are considered vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

Officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque say they identified several dozen inmates who meet federal health guidelines for medical risk when it comes to COVID-19. Of those, 46 will remain in custody since they're facing violent charges and are considered ineligible for release.

No inmates or jail staff have tested positive, but officials say two living areas have been vacated for quarantine if needed.

New Mexico reported its first death from the virus Thursday as cases climbed to at least 136.

Appeals Grow To Close US National Parks During Pandemic - By Ellen Knickmeyer, Felicia Fonseca and Travis Loller, Associated Press

The Trump administration is sticking with its crowd friendly waiver of entrance fees at national parks during the coronavirus outbreak.

That's even as managers at some parks try and fail to keep tens of thousands of hikers and tourists a safe distance apart and as communities appeal for shutdowns at some parks that are still open.

Communities around Grand Canyon National Park are among those asking for a shutdown, saying they fear more local spread of the coronavirus. The Interior Department says there's been no decision on that request.

The Trump administration agreed last week to close some parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Great Smoky Mountains, after requests from the park managers.

The Navajo Nation, which has 69 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, closed tribal parks, placed restrictions on businesses and issued a stay-at-home order for residents on the vast 27,000-square-mile reservation that extends into Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

New Mexico Reaches Settlement With Foster Youth, Advocates Associated Press

New Mexico has reached a settlement with foster youth and their advocates that will allow for the creation of a trauma response system for all children in state custody.

The Human Services Department and state child welfare officials announced the agreement in a statement on Thursday. It calls for building a statewide community-based behavioral health system that all children and families will have access to and implementing training for staff, foster parents and others who serve children affected by trauma.

The settlement comes in a 2018 case that alleged youth in the New Mexico foster care system lacked safe, stable placements and behavioral health services.

Fire Danger Level Elevated In Southwestern New MexicoAssociated Press

Forest Service officials say the threat of wildfires is rising in southwestern New Mexico.

Gila National Forest officials on Thursday cited strong winds, low humidity and the recent discovery of an abandoned campfire for a decision by fire managers to raise the forest's fire danger level to moderate, up from low.

Forest officials said campers and other visitors should practice fire safety. That includes taking steps such as never leaving a fire unattended, clearing flammable material from within at least 5 feet in all directions and making a fire only if a shovel and enough water to put out the fire are on hand.

UFC Light Heavyweight Champ Jones Arrested, Accused Of DWIAssociated Press

Albuquerque police say UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has been arrested on suspicion of DWI and other offenses after officers heard gunshots and found him sitting in a parked vehicle with a gun.

Police say the 32-year-old Jones was arrested on suspicion of aggravated DWI, negligent use of firearms, possession of an open container of alcohol and no proof of vehicle insurance.

Police say Jones was in the driver's seat and showed signs of intoxication and that a handgun and half-empty bottle of liquor were found in the vehicle. Jail records indicate Jones was released after being booked.

Online court records don't list an attorney for Jones who could comment on his behalf. 

New Mexico Marks 1st Virus Death - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico has its first coronavirus death. Health officials said Wednesday the man in his late 70s was hospitalized in Artesia on Sunday and died the same day.

The state Health Department said he had multiple underlying health issues and his condition deteriorated rapidly.

Infections have climbed to 112 in the state, with schools shut down and a stay-at-home order in effect.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the death marks a tragic day and urged residents to take precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

Non-Essential Medical Procedures Halted To Preserve Supplies For COVID-19 PatientsAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Medical procedures that can be postponed and surgeries that are deemed “non-essential” have been halted in New Mexico in the interest of preserving medical equipment for those treating patients with COVID-19.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a statement Wednesday cited a shortage of personal protective equipment or “PPE” as behind the ban on certain procedures.

If a delay in care of three months would pose “undue risk” to the health of a patient or cause permanent harm, it is considered essential and can proceed. All emergency surgeries and pre- and post-natal care will continue without delay.

Another public health order required medical providers and suppliers receive prior approval from the state Department of Health before selling or distributing PPE.

Santa Fe New Mexican Announces Layoffs Amid COVID-19 Associated Press

The Santa Fe New Mexican has announced nearly a dozen layoffs, salary reductions and a shortened workweek amid an economic downturn caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Publisher Tom Cross said Tuesday the moves are intended to keep the family-owned newspaper, its website and other operations as healthy as possible while the media outlet deals with a decline in advertisement.

Under the plan, New Mexican managers will see reduced salaries and staff will have reductions in hours worked. It's unclear if the layoffs affect the newsroom.

In addition, staffers at the alternative newsweekly Santa Fe Reporter announced the publication also had layoffs and salary cuts. The weekly has set up a "Friends of the Reporter" website to seek donations.

The Gallup Independent also said it would move its entire newspaper staff to part-time but still print regularly.

The New Mexican will continue to publish seven days a week and also will continue its commercial printing operations. The New Mexican's printing plant produces a variety of other newspapers, including The New York Times.

The New Mexican has been in business since 1849.

As the economy improves, Cross said the newspaper hopes to restore hours, positions and wages back to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The New Mexican, like other newspaper and media outlets, is defined as an essential service under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's recent stay-at-home order.

University Of New Mexico Postpones Commencement Due To Virus Associated Press

The University of New Mexico is postponing its spring commencement due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

The university said President Garnett Stokes will seek student input as she considers when to reschedule the commencement that had been scheduled for May 16 and how it will be conducted.

Stokes said the decision to postpone is regrettable and that she knows it’s a memorable part of graduates' university experience.  

The university is holding classes remotely and Stokes said the faculty is working on how grading will be conducted for the current term.

New Mexico Regulators Give Green Light To Solar Project - Associated Press

New Mexico utility regulators have approved a program that will allow local governments and large businesses to subscribe to a universal solar field to be built by the state's largest electric provider. 

Public Service Co. of New Mexico says the cities and businesses can make a 15-year commitment to match their energy use to the solar field's output. 

The utility says the arrangement will help cities and businesses meet their sustainability targets. 

The 50-megawatt facility will be built on Jicarilla Apache Nation land in northern New Mexico. Officials say it will be the first tribally owned, utility-scale solar project in the nation.

New Mexico Cannabis Company Exporting To Israel - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico medical marijuana company has begun exporting cannabis-based medicine to Israel. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports Ultra Health spokesperson Marissa Novel says the company started exporting earlier this month through a partnership with Israeli pharmaceutical group Panaxai. 

The medicine was created using hemp grown in Bernalillo County. 

Ultra Health is believed to be one of the first U.S. companies to export medical marijuana to Israel. 

Ultra Health CEO and president Duke Rodriguez says New Mexico officials played a crucial role in getting the export effort started.

Sheriff: Colorado Man Shot Near Carlsbad Caverns By Ranger - Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

Authorities say a Colorado man was shot and killed near Carlsbad Caverns National Park following a physical altercation with a National Parks Ranger. 

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage said Wednesday that Charles Gage Lorentz was shot by the ranger after being stopped for erratic driving on Saturday. 

Eddy County Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Matt Hutchinson says he was shot during the altercation that ensued and pronounced dead at the scene by the Office of the Medical Investigation. 

The ranger, whose name was not released by officials, was not injured.

Judge Clears Way For New Mexico Suit Over Kid Privacy Claims - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A U.S. district judge has rejected an effort to derail New Mexico's lawsuit against Twitter, Google and other companies that develop and market mobile gaming apps for children.

The judge concluded in a ruling Tuesday that the court has jurisdiction over the case, clearing the way for it to proceed. New Mexico's top prosecutor filed the lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the mobile apps violated state and federal laws by collecting personal information that could compromise privacy.

The case was initiated as public concerns escalated about whether information on online interests, browsing and buying habits were slipping into the hands of data brokers without their consent.