THURS: State Expects Rapid Vaccine Delivery, New Orders Limit Nonessential Surgeries, + More

Dec 10, 2020

New Mexico Expects Vaccine Delivery Within Day Of Approval - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the first doses of coronavirus vaccine from drug maker Pfizer are expected to arrive in New Mexico within 24 hours of pending federal approval.

There are 17,500 doses of the vaccine reserved for New Mexico, which plans to distribute the initial allotment to health workers at high risk of exposure.

The state sent notifications Wednesday to 37 hospitals that are expected to receive initial vaccines.

New Mexico health officials have issued new emergency orders that could limit nonessential surgeries and prepare for rationing of other medical services as the coronavirus pandemic strains resources and personnel at hospitals and intensive care centers.

The state Department of Health issued the two new public health orders amid a sustained surge in coronavirus infections and deaths across much of the state.

One order allows hospitals and acute-care facilities to limit surgeries and the second order changes liability standards for emergency medical providers as the state prepares for possible triage procedures that might limit care to some individuals.

Gov. Lujan Grisham said the health orders go into effect Dec. 11 and will last until at least Jan. 4.

New Mexico on Thursday reported an additional newly confirmed 1,791 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 114,731 since the pandemic began. An additional 23 deaths also were reported.

Lawsuit Alleges Secrecy At New Mexico Prison Agency - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A newly founded watchdog organization on prison conditions says it is colliding with a culture of secrecy at the New Mexico Corrections Department that interferes with monitoring complaints of civil rights violations by inmates.

The New Mexico Prison & Jail Project on Thursday announced a lawsuit against officials at the Department of Corrections alleging that the agency has failed to respond on time to a request for public records.

The Albuquerque-based nonprofit group says at least 10 lawsuits have been filed against the Corrections Department so far in 2020 concerning compliance with the state inspection of public records act.

Officials at the Corrections Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the lawsuit. The agency has extended its response deadline to late December for a records request initially filed on Oct 12.

Sponsors of the New Mexico Prison & Jail Project include the Texas Civil Rights Project. Advisors and staff at the New Mexico project say they plan to advocate for better treatment of inmates — including medical attention amid the coronavirus pandemic — at state and privately operated prisons and county jails through litigation.

Any financial awards from the state — ultimately from taxpayers — would be reinvested into litigation aimed at improving prison conditions, according to Allen.

Immigrant Requests Pour In For New Mexico Virus Relief Funds - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico officials have received more than 30,000 applications for virus relief payments meant for residents regardless of immigration status.

State lawmakers recently approved $5 million in emergency financial assistance for low-income state residents who did not receive a federal relief payment earlier this year. That includes immigrants in the country illegally, as well as spouses and children.

The deadline to apply for the aid is Friday.

The state Human Services Department has discretion in how the payments will be distributed. It could send smaller amounts to more residents or use available tax information to prioritize the most needy.

The emergency aid is part of a $330 million stimulus package approved by lawmakers last month. Included in the seven-page bill was a provision for $750 payments to individuals who were not eligible for the $1,200 federal relief checks sent earlier this year.

The vast majority of immigrants in the country without legal permission work and pay taxes but are not eligible for federal welfare programs or the unemployment insurance they pay into.

In New Mexico, where the majority of immigrants are from Mexico and Central American countries, Latino-focused organizing groups say financial assistance is a public health issue. Like other frontline workers, immigrants without legal status faced unpaid furloughs while awaiting tests or had to decide if they would take time off work after testing positive for COVID-19.

City governments are also spending portions of their relief funds to send direct payments to immigrants. In Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces, cities are offering between $750 and $2,000 per household.

All stimulus payments are expected to be sent out by the end of December.

Navajo Officials Work To Add Sites For Virus Isolation, CareFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Navajo health officials are working to boost the number of isolation and alternate care sites for those infected with the coronavirus.

The Farmington Daily Times reported Tuesday the tribe had awarded a $50 million contract to Pacific Architects and Engineers Inc. and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare in October to operate alternate care sites and to provide clinical and logistical support.

The Office of the President and Vice President said in a statement the locations will be designated specifically for those who have tested positive for the coronavirus to prevent household spread.

There have been 18,575 new confirmed cases and 693 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the Navajo Nation.

An alternate care site has been set up in Chinle and isolation sites have been arranged in hotels in Farmington and Gallup. Additional sites will open in Tuba City and Holbrook.

University Of New Mexico Files Complaint Over Naming RightsAssociated Press

The University of New Mexico has filed a complaint against one of its biggest donors in a naming rights dispute.

The university confirmed Thursday that it's seeking arbitration in a dispute with Dreamstyle Remodeling.

The company entered into what was expected to be a 10-year, $9 million agreement in 2017. The agreement included naming rights to University Stadium and University Arena.

Dreamstyle owner Larry Chavez paid the university $1.5 million, but there's conflict over what is still owed and if there is a contract in place at all.

Chavez says he proposed a new deal, but the university wouldn't consider it until previous obligations were fulfilled.

Chavez signed the original deal with Learfield IMG College, a multimedia rights company that ended its relationship with the university last year.

At the time, Dreamstyle and the university entered into negotiations to settle the amounts Dreamstyle already owed under the 2017 sponsorship agreement.

The university contends Dreamstyle failed to meet its obligations under the 2019 interim payment schedule and still owes more than $1 million.

New Mexico Education Spending Plan Focuses On Student Equity - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

The New Mexico Public Education Department is proposing a new formula for funding schools with high numbers of low-income students.

Education Secretary Ryan Stewart told a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday that a more detailed analysis of student household incomes could help the state meet a court-ordered mandate to provide adequate education for low-income students.

The proposed index would aggregate family income data at the school level.

Stewart also put forward a plan to fund councilors, tutors and other services to help students who are falling behind due to remote learning.

The Public Education Department is under pressure to provide more support for low-income school districts after a judge ruled in 2018 that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education for children, particularly to Native Americans, English language learners and low-income students.

The overall budget request for the fiscal year beginning in July asks for a post-pandemic service fund of $95 million.

The idea is to get students back on their feet through counseling, tutoring and work experience programs following what is expected to be more than a year of online learning.

The Public Education Department is under pressure to provide more support for low-income school districts after a judge ruled in 2018 that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education for children, particularly to Native Americans, English language learners and low-income students.

Predictions Vary On New Mexico Higher Education Enrollment - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

Higher education leaders and lawmakers debated the future of New Mexico college enrollment in a legislative hearing Tuesday.

While New Mexico's higher education secretary believes it will rise like it did after the 2008 recession, some lawmakers think it will continue declining.

Officials said Tuesday that preliminary data suggests freshman enrollment is up this fall at state-funded universities.

But some current students are failing to complete credits because of financial and childcare disruptions. Some lawmakers are concerned that high school students won't graduate and as a result won't have college as an option.

During the five years before the pandemic, enrollment in state schools declined by 13%, according to an October report by legislative researchers.

The Higher Education Department is requesting $803.2 million for the state's colleges, $24.5 million for state financial aid programs, $7 million for adult education, and $3.9 for operating costs.

It oversees billions of dollars in tuition scholarships, including the lottery scholarship, which funds 4-year college tuition and the "opportunity scholarship," which funds 2-year college tuition.

New Mexico Begins Sewage Testing For COVID At Prisons Associated Press

New Mexico has begun monitoring sewage from prisons and youth rehabilitation facilities to more efficiently detect COVID-19 outbreaks in the southwest of the state.

The state Environment Department announced the initiative Wednesday. The goal is to sample human feces in group-living situations to quickly identify coronavirus outbreaks.

The results may be used to more effectively deploy individual testing to pinpoint infections and halt the spread.

Initial sampling will take place at federal, state and local jails, along with facilities overseen by the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

Environment Department spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said the initial effort comes at a cost of about $300,000, utilizing federal relief funds. Lexington, Massachusetts-based ERG was contracted to perform the sewage testing.

The southwest region was selected for the initial phase of testing because of high rates of positive testing along with limited access to testing.

State health officials reported 1,759 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 34 additional deaths.

There are 917 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and health officials warned this week that the state faces the prospect of rationing care if the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Navajo Nation Reports 191 New COVID-19 Cases, 5 More Deaths Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 191 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths.
In all, the tribe has now reported 18,575 cases and 693 known deaths since the pandemic began.

Navajo Department of Health officials say nearly 177,000 people on the vast reservation that includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for COVID-19 and more than 10,000 have recovered.

But officials have identified 77 Navajo Nation communities with uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus since late last month.

Tribal officials say nearly all intensive care unit beds on the reservation are being used as COVID-19 cases surge.

The Navajo Nation has extended its stay-at-home order though Dec. 28 in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

New Mexico Panel Recommends Raising Medical Pot Plant Count - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

An advisory board is recommending that New Mexico clear the way for licensed medical marijuana producers to grow more plants.

The board during a meeting Wednesday voted in favor of a petition that sought to significantly increase the current plant count limit. The medical marijuana industry has pushed for eliminating the limit amid patient complaints about high costs and a lack of variety.

The state health secretary will have the final say on the recommendation.

Ultra Health, one of New Mexico's largest producers, has argued in public meetings and as part of court challenges that the limits established by the Health Department are arbitrary.

However, some participants in the program have voiced concerns that the nonprofit model established by the state has devolved into a monopoly in which producers grow mid-grade marijuana and charge what they want.

Officials with New Mexico's medical cannabis program noted that previous increases in the plant count failed to bring down prices and that another increase already is in the works for next year.

The board also is recommending that the state adopt changes to rules governing reciprocity for those patients whose authorization to use medical marijuana originated in other states.

Officials with New Mexico's marijuana program said the goal is to provide access for people who may be traveling through or living in the state on a temporary basis.

The proposed changes would close a loophole allowing New Mexico residents to see a provider online and get authorization out of state rather than enrolling in New Mexico's program.

Board members denied a petition to allow medical marijuana as a seizure therapy for pets.

Gas Pipeline Project In New Mexico Halted Amid Pandemic Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

A natural gas pipeline that would have connected an oil field in New Mexico and Texas to markets in the Gulf Coast has been halted as the fossil fuel industry struggles during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported that officials with Permian Global Access Pipeline, a subsidiary of Houston-based natural gas producer Tellurian, withdrew its application to build the 625-mile pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission first approved the request to begin the application process in September 2019.

Permian Global Access Pipeline LLC President Joey Mahmoud said that current market conditions meant the project was not financially viable and that the company could resume if the market recovers.