THURS: New Mexico Shifts Isolation Rules For Travelers As New Virus Cases Fall, + More

Aug 6, 2020

New Mexico Overhauls Isolation Rules For Travelers As New Virus Cases Fall - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's governor is highlighting self-quarantine requirements for travelers entering or returning to the state while providing two new exceptions for people seeking medical care and those attending to essential parenting duties.

The executive order Thursday from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham mandates 14 days of isolation at a residence or lodging facility upon arrival or return to New Mexico — with broad exceptions for workers in essential businesses, the federal government and the airline industry.

State health officials are wrestling with how to cordon off New Mexico from neighboring states with higher infection rates and uncontained virus outbreaks.

The self-quarantine restrictions apply for the duration of New Mexico's public health emergency. The state has delayed any further reopening of the economy until at least September.

The rate of positive tests is far lower in New Mexico than neighboring states of Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma. And a local surge of virus infections and related deaths appears to be tapering off.

On Thursday, New Mexico health officials said there were 212 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 21,773. Officials said two more people have died from the virus, bringing the state death total to 669.

There were also 138 individuals hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19 and 8,950 cases are designated as having recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases decreased over the past two weeks, going from 286 new cases a day on July 22 to 221 new cases a day on Wednesday. That’s according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results. The full number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Average statewide daily deaths have declined from 5.3 to 4.6 over the same period.

Meatpacking Plant In Roswell Reports COVID-19 In 21 Workers - Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

A state agency reported that 21 employees at a meatpacking plant in Roswell tested positive for COVID-19.

The New Mexico Environment Department has advised USA Beef Packing LLC owner Jose Madrid on how to handle the cases, the Roswell Daily Record reported. Madrid said he is cooperating with a state investigation into what caused the infection to spread.

Agency reports show the company reported its first positive test on July 28, and it had two by July 31. The number of cases jumped to 21 by Wednesday. The company was closed for a while after the first confirmed case, and all employees were to be tested, department spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said.

A quality control officer for the company previously told the Daily Record that the plant follows all federal and state guidelines regarding food and employee safety, including social distancing measures and employee temperature checks.

“We want to assure you that we are taking all precautions and necessary steps to ensure our food supply is safe," the company said in a statement.

Bad Drought Conditions Reported Across New Mexico, ArizonaAssociated Press

Large stretches of New Mexico and much of neighboring Arizona face severe or extreme drought conditions.

The latest weekly Drought Monitor map shows areas of extreme drought in northern New Mexico and in the state's southeastern corner. Meanwhile, areas of severe drought are seen in other parts of those regions as well as across much of southern and south-central Arizona.

The Drought Monitor said the West has seen temperatures well above normal in the past week and that much of the region has been dry "with only spottty precipitiation in places" though the monsoon provided some relief to eastern New Mexico. 

$2M Cash-Only Bond For Airman Charged With Murder In Arizona - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Bail has been set at $2 million cash-only for a U.S. Air Force airman charged in the killing of a Sunday school teacher who was living in northwestern New Mexico.

Mark Gooch became eligible for bond after the deadline passed for prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 27-year-old Sasha Krause.

She disappeared from a Mennonite community outside Farmington earlier this year. Her body was found in a forest clearing near Flagstaff.

An Arizona judge considered more than a dozen factors in setting the bail amount during a hearing in the case Thursday.

New Mexico School Officially Dumps Spanish Conquistador Name - Las Cruces Sun-News,  Associated Press

A southern New Mexico school district has blocked efforts to repeal a vote to change the name of a high school named after a brutal Spanish conquistador. 

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the Las Cruces school board did not take a vote Tuesday to annul their decision last month to drop the name of Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar from a high school. 

Instead, the board voted to rename it Organ Mountain High School, referencing a mountain range near Las Cruces that is part of the skyline.

The proposal to change the name of the school comes amid a national conversation about monuments and names of institutions honoring historical figures linked to racism, slavery, and genocide.

The long meeting was sparked by a board member who said she regretted her vote to change the name and some Hispanic advocates who were upset over the renaming.

About 40 minutes after the vote to change the name to Organ Mountains, the school board voted again, this time on Organ Mountain High School, without the "s" at the end of "mountain." The vote on Organ Mountain High School passed 5-0.

"I don't think Organ Mountain killed anybody," board president Terrie Dallman said.

New Mexico Starts Offering Rescue Loans To Small Businesses – Associated Press

State finance officials started accepting applications Wednesday for low-interest loans that are designed to help small businesses endure the financial stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislation approved in June sets aside up to $400 million in state trust funds for loans to individual businesses of up to $75,000 each.

Eligibility is limited to businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue. Applicants also must show a 30% decline in monthly revenue in April and May versus a year ago.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the loan program a cornerstone of the state's response to the economic crisis. The New Mexico Finance Authority administers the new loan program.

In other news, Albuquerque zoo facilities will partially reopen next week to visitors wearing face masks or other face coverings after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Current statewide health orders prohibit indoor restaurant service, require face masks in public, ban public gatherings of more than four people and have suspend classroom attendance at public schools until at least early September.

EPA Settles With Utah Over 2015 Colorado Mine Spill - By Brady McCombs, Associated Press

The U.S. government settled a lawsuit Wednesday brought by the state of Utah over a mine waste spill caused by federal workers that sent wastewater downstream to several states from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado five years ago.

Utah's lawsuit was one of several legal claims filed over the incident, but no other settlements have been reached.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

The Navajo Nation filed a claim for $162 million, and the state of New Mexico for $130 million.

The spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine to pollute rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including on Navajo Nation lands. Some waterways turned an orange-yellow color.

An EPA-led contractor crew inadvertently triggered the spill. The crew was using heavy equipment to excavate the mine opening in preparation for a possible cleanup when a worker breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater in the shaft.

The EPA estimates that nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals reached the Animas River, mostly iron and aluminum.

After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund district. It is reviewing options for a broad cleanup.

This story was first published on Aug. 5, 2020. It was updated on Aug. 6, 2020, to correct that the EPA will not provide an additional $360 million to Utah as state officials said. The EPA is spending $220 million of its own funds to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

Ex-Belen City Manager Sues Over Allegations Of Funds Misuse - KRQE, Associated Press

A former central New Mexico city manager has filed a lawsuit over allegations the mayor misused public money. 

KRQE-TV reports former Belen city manager Leona Vigil said in a lawsuit this month she was wrongly demoted and eventually fired after raising red flags. 

According to the lawsuit filed in state district court, Vigil says Mayor Jerah Cordova insisted the city move forward with sidewalk repairs even though city employees told him the work would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

She also alleges Cordova wanted to spend public funds on the birthday celebration for the renowned feminist artist Judy Chicago, who lives in Belen, despite being told the celebration would violate the state's anti-donation clause.

In February, she filed a complaint to human resources about severance pay that she never received and she says she was fired two weeks later.

The city said it does not comment on pending litigation.

State Reports 229 New COVID-19 Cases And 9 DeathsKUNM, Associated Press

State officials announced 229 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and 9 deaths. New Mexico has now had a total of 21,566 cases and 667 people have died.

Four of Wednesday’s deaths were among people in long-term or acute care facilities. Department of Health officials have found at least one case among residents and/or staff in 50 of these facilities over the last month.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico has declined slightly over the past two weeks, going from 275 new cases per day on July 21 to 233 new cases per day on Aug. 4, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Navajo Nation Reports 39 More COVID-19 Cases, 4 More Deaths

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 39 more cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. 

That brings the total number of people infected to 9,195 and the known death toll to 467 as of Wednesday night. 

Navajo Department of Health officials say 83,527 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 6,766 have recovered.  

The Navajo Nation will change its 57-hour weekend lockdown to a 32-hour weekend lockdown beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday and ending at 5 a.m. Monday. 

Tribal officials say the daily curfew also will be changed to those same hours on the vast reservation that covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.