THURS: State Extends Public Health Order Through August, + More

Jul 30, 2020

Governor Extends Public Health Orders Through AugustKUNM, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials reported 255 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a briefing from the State Capitol the public health order set to expire on July 30 will be extended through August 28.

The Albuquerque Journal reported it was the lowest number of daily cases in more than a week, but the state’s seven-day rolling average has doubled since a month ago to 331.

There were also three additional deaths of people in their 70s and 80s in northwest New Mexico. All had underlying health conditions. That brings the total number of deaths to 635.

A surge in outbreaks is due in part to cases in detention centers in Cibola and Otero counties.

The extended public health order means everyone must wear face coverings in public and that businesses must require customers to wear masks before entering.

Lujan Grisham has urged law enforcement to issue citations to individuals who deliberately flout the rule.

It also keeps in place a prohibition on mass gatherings and indoor occupancy restrictions for certain businesses, including restaurants and gyms.

Wineries and distilleries will now be classified as restaurants and as such can operate outdoor and patio seating, but indoor service and seating is prohibited.

The governor has delayed re-entry to school classrooms until at least Sept. 7 and rolled back plans to reopen the economy by restoring a ban on indoor restaurant service and requiring a 14-day self-quarantine as travelers enter or return to New Mexico.

Students with special needs and those in kindergarten through third grade who have the most learning needs could be allowed to meet one-on-one with teachers or in small groups prior to Sept. 7.

Republican elected officials and restaurants are waging a legal battle against the governor over recent health restrictions aimed at stopping the virus.

New Mexico Ensures Unemployment Benefits To Elderly - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico labor authorities are approving unemployment benefits automatically for people who don't return to work because of their advanced age or for a variety of serious medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Workforce Solutions Department Secretary Bill McCamley on Thursday said people 65 and older and other "high-risk workers" should consider not returning to work immediately because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other documented health conditions will automatically qualify workers for unemployment benefits. They include chronic lung disease, severe asthma, severe obesity, diabetes and a serious heart issue. People 65 and over need not submit additional paperwork.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico increased by 255 on Thursday to 20,388 since the outbreak of the pandemic, with three new deaths.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she is gravely concerned about the expiration this week of a $600 weekly federal supplement to cash unemployment benefits.

Activists Vow To Meet Arriving Federal Agents In Albuquerque - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Activists in Albuquerque say they are preparing to greet federal agents coming to New Mexico's largest city with civil disobedience and peaceful protests.

Members of a coalition organized by the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice vowed Thursday to resist any Portland-style "occupation" of the city and any efforts to increase aggressive policing.

Center executive director Jim Harvey said President Donald Trump is only sending federal agents to the city as a photo op.

U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson is defending the decision to deploy 35 federal agents to Albuquerque to address violent crime, urging the city's Democratic mayor to embrace the effort

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to its appropriations bill today that would block funds from being used for Operation Legend or Operation Relentless Pursuit, according to a release from New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland tonight.

Relentless Pursuit is an operation launched in December 2019 that targeted 7 cities with high violent crime rates and promised $10 million dollars to boost federal law enforcement presence in Albuquerque.

In a statement, Haaland said the amendment "will protect our communities from President Trump’s attempts to make our neighborhoods combat zones."

The House Appropriations bill will head to the U.S. Senate after all amendments are finalized.

Manslaughter Charge Against Ex-Sheriff's Deputy DismissedAssociated Press

A judge has dismissed a voluntary manslaughter charge against a former Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy accused in the 2014 shooting death of a fellow deputy.

Tai Chan had previously been tried twice on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Santa Fe County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Martin. Both trials ended in mistrials.  

Chan is accused of shooting Martin during an argument at a Las Cruces hotel where they had stopped on a trip to transport a prisoner. Chan claimed self-defense.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the charge was dismissed Wednesday based on a violation of Chan's right to a speedy trial and due process. 

GOP US Senate Hopeful Ronchetti Rebuffs Election Delay IdeaAssociated Press

A GOP U.S. senatorial candidate in New Mexico is joining top Republicans in Congress in rebuffing President Donald Trump's suggestions the 2020 elections be delayed.

Mark Ronchetti's campaign manager Jeff Glassburner said Thursday the Albuquerque Republican does not support moving the election from November 3rd.

Trump suggested the delay as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud.

The Republican Party of New Mexico, however, is defending Trump and said the president was only raising questions. Ronchetti is facing Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján for an open Senate seat in New Mexico.

Navajo Nation Reports 41 More COVID-19 Cases, 7 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 41 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths.  

The total number of people infected on the reservation now stands at 8,968 with 453 known deaths as of Wednesday night. Tribal health officials said 79,583 people have undergone testing and 6,622 have recovered from the virus.

The Navajo Nation once had one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus infections in the U.S.  

The daily number of reported cases has declined overall, but nighttime curfews, weekend lockdowns and a mask mandate remain because of recent surges in COVID-19 off the reservation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Lujan Grisham Builds Profile As Biden Looks To Make VP PickMorgan Lee, Associated Press

Michelle Lujan Grisham has not received the attention of many higher-profile candidates under consideration to be Joe Biden's running mate. But she has a resume that few of them can match.

The New Mexico governor has executive experience and served in the U.S. House and as her state's health secretary. Tested by the coronavirus pandemic, she has taken strong steps that have been credited with saving lives — including a mandatory face mask order.

And she’s one of the nation’s highest-ranking Latina officials as Latinos emerge as the fastest-growing demographic for eligible voters.

The governor seized on the pandemic and recent civil rights protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in ways that may bolster her appeal among Democrats, seeking to expand the use of mail-in balloting and signing off in June on policing reforms from the Democrat-led Legislature that mandate police body cameras, and, she signed a red-flag bill that allows judges to remove firearms based on signs of danger.

But Biden is also facing pressure to choose a Black running mate as the country confronts a reckoning over institutionalized racism and police brutality.

Leader, Civil Rights Group Part After Ethnic Studies Flap Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A New Mexico Hispanic activist upset about the removal of Spanish conquistador monuments and who demanded the state's largest university remove some Ethnic Studies classes is no longer a leader in the nation's oldest Latino civil rights group.

Fred Baca, the newly named League of United Latin American Citizens New Mexico Director, told The Associated Press that Ralph Arellanes was informed this week he won’t be returning as the group's state executive director. Baca said Arellanes then resigned.

Last week, Arellanes drew anger among LULAC members nationally after writing a letter to the president of the University of New Mexico and urging the school to remove any classes critical of Spanish conquistadors.

However, LULAC said Arellanes did not get approval from the group to use its name in the letter, and removing Ethnic Studies classes was not the organization's position.

Chicano Studies and Native American Studies professors around the country sharply criticize the letter as promoting censorship and attacking their programs.

 Police: New Mexico Man Attacked Officer Over Fear Of SnakesAssociated Press

A New Mexico man is facing charges after authorities say he became combative with police over a fear of snakes and tried to grab an officer’s gun.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Nathaniel Ryan Ramirez was arrested Saturday following a disturbance at a Las Cruces gas station.

According to police, Ramirez complained about snakes and claimed he was bitten. But officers say he had no bite marks.

After he was taken into custody, police say Ramirez kicked an officer’s vehicle then tried to grab the officer’s gun.

Ramirez was eventually taken to Mountain View Regional Medical Center, where he was placed on a 48-hour medical hold.

It was not known if he had an attorney.

Execution Set For Sole Native American On Federal Death RowFelicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The only Native American on federal death row is scheduled to be executed in late August, the U.S. government announced Wednesday.

Lezmond Mitchell, who is Navajo, had been among the first of a handful of inmates set to be put to death after the Trump administration restored federal executions after an informal, 17-year moratorium.

His attorneys have asked the appeals court to keep a stay in place while they seek review at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The execution date for Mitchell, who was convicted of the 2001 murder of a Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter, now is Aug. 26.

Despite the grisly nature of the killings, tribal officials and even the victims’ family opposed the death penalty. Native American tribes for decades have been able to tell federal prosecutors if they want a death sentence considered for certain crimes on their land.

Nearly all, including the Navajo Nation, have rejected that option.

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases In New Mexico Jump 352, Now 20,136Associated Press

New Mexico health officials say the state has 352 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 20,136.

The state Department of Health said Wednesday that six more people died from the virus and New Mexico’s death total is now 632.

There are 158 individuals hospitalized in New Mexico for the novel coronavirus. This number may include individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in the state.

In addition, there are 7,817 COVID-19 cases designated as having recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The latest numbers come as Republicans and restaurants battle Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over new health restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Regulators Tap Solar To Replace New Mexico Coal-Fired PlantAssociated Press

Solar-generated electricity and battery storage facilities will be installed in northwestern New Mexico to replace a major coal-fired power plant, according to terms of a decision Wednesday from state utility regulators.

The five-member Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved a plan that relies almost entirely on renewable energy sources to replace electricity from the San Juan Generating Station. Public Service Co. of New Mexico will stop accepting electricity generated by the station by 2022.

The plan shores up electricity supplies for population centers including Albuquerque by building extensive solar and battery storage facilities while shunning new investments in power plants that burn natural gas or coal.

The city of Farmington and others have been working to keep San Juan open as part of a proposed carbon-capture project. The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $2.7 million for an engineering study to further investigate the feasibility.

That project appears less likely to go forward as the area’s investor-owned utility moves forward with long-term contracts for solar panel arrays and battery storage facilities.