THURS: State Relaxes Some Virus Restrictions On Youth Sports, +More

Sep 17, 2020

New Mexico Governor Eases Some COVID-19 RestrictionsAssociated Press

New Mexico children can practice sports and develop skills while in small groups and residents will soon be able to camp at state parks under changes being made to the state's public health order.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the updated order also permits visits to pumpkin patches and that her administration plans to issue guidance for corn mazes, haunted houses and the operators of other autumn activities as fall approaches.

The governor said the state is trending in the right direction but that more can be done to move the state to a level where schools can resume in-person learning and more businesses can reopen.

"We are not there yet, but that has to be the goal," she said. "So the more we do as individuals, the more opportunity it is for all New Mexicans to have access to the critical required services and the businesses that they desire. New Mexico businesses deserve our effort and attention here and so do our kids."

The updated health order will remain in effect through mid-October. It still mandates that people wear masks or face coverings in all public spaces and competitive contact sports remain off-limits.

Health officials have reported an additional 159 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 27,199. The death toll is now 836, with four additional deaths reported Thursday.

New Mexico Racinos Ask Governor To Reconsider Closure - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's racetrack and casino operators are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider allowing them to reopen.

In a letter sent this week to the Democratic governor, they pointed out that commercial casinos outside of New Mexico have opened — from Nevada to New Jersey and New York.

Track and casino managers in New Mexico they say they have a plan to do it safely.

While tribal casinos in the state have reopened, the governor's office said Thursday that doesn't necessarily make opening a safe decision at this time and that public health conditions will determine when the time is right for easing restrictions on non-tribal operations.

New Mexico's Utility Regulation Committee Ousts ChairwomanAssociated Press

New Mexico's utility regulation committee ousted its Navajo chairwoman for what she claims is retribution for pushing for more broadband access in rural communities.

The state's Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to replace Chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar with Commissioner Stephen Fischmann.

Becenti-Aguilar claims the recall occurred because her fellow commissioners gave the issue of rural broadband availability far less priority than she had.

Commissioner Cynthia Hall disputed Becenti-Aguilar's claim but did not provide a reason as to why she was ousted.

Fischmann declined to answer any questions about Becenti-Aguilar's removal.

Becenti-Aguilar had been the chairwoman of the commission since 2018 and represents the northwest region of the state.

US Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail - By Gene Johnson, Associated Press

A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide.

The judge called them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states including New Mexico that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave mail behind" policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load.

They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as First Class mail.

Tribes' Ancestral Remains Return Home To American SouthwestAssociated Press

Tribal leaders have reburied the remains of their ancestors that were taken more than a century ago from what's now a national park in Colorado.

The remains of about 20 people along with funerary objects were unearthed during excavations by a Swedish researcher in 1891. They eventually became part of the collection of the National Museum of Finland.

The Hopi Tribe in northeastern Arizona, and Zuni, Acoma and Zia pueblos in New Mexico led the repatriation efforts. They began working with the Finnish museum in 2016 to catalog the collection.

The remains and funerary objects were reburied over the weekend within Mesa Verde National Park, best known for the hundreds of stone dwellings built along the cliffs.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said he's hopeful others who have similar collections will be motivated to work with tribes to return any remains and items of cultural significance.


New Mexico Winds Down Trump's $300 Unemployment Supplement – Associated Press

New Mexico labor officials say a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits expired on Sept. 5, as payments continue for backdated claims.

In a news release Wednesday, the Department of Workforce Solutions announced the tentative end of federal supplements to state unemployment benefits.

The state is distributing lump-sum $1,500 payments that cover the first five weeks of the program, to be followed by one additional $300 payment.

President Donald Trump's $300-a-week jobless aid program was created by an executive order last month after a more generous version adopted by Congress expired and Trump and Congress failed to reach agreement on a new aid package.

Las Cruces Schools To Continue Online Through Fall Associated Press

In other responses to the pandemic, Las Cruces Public Schools board members unanimously voted Tuesday to continue online instruction for most students though the remainder of the fall semester and possibly longer, depending on health guidelines.

Superintendent Karen Trujillo proposed continuing remote learning, except for small groups of students in special education, preschool students and others with a greater need for in-person instruction, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

The exemption includes new English learners, homeless, migrant or foster students, students who are not engaged and students who are at risk of failure. These students will have their temperature checked and be required to do a daily wellness check in order to attend classroom instruction.

Some parents raised concerns about technological difficulties and lack of consistency with the online system and argued for a sooner return.

State health officials reported 119 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total number to just over 27,000 since the beginning of the pandemic.

There were also two additional deaths. Lea and Roosevelt counties in southeast New Mexico had the most new cases, followed by Eddy County, also in the southeast, and Bernalillo.

The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 is now 832.

Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick but 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.

Ex-CEO Pushes Back On Audit Of Hospital Near Navajo Nation - Associated Press

The former CEO of Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital in Gallup is challenging the findings of a special audit of finances and contracts at the taxpayer-supported hospital. 

In a statement Wednesday, former hospital executive David Conejo and his attorney called the audit report "shoddy" and said it "misrepresents the true financial picture" at Rehoboth under Conejo's tenure. 

The independent audit was commissioned initially by McKinley County and released by the state auditor's office. 

It alleges that Conejo's hospital management company Healthcare Integrity circumvented proper oversight. 

Conejo condemned the audit as "grossly inaccurate" and denied its assertion that his salary was not approved by the hospital board.


New Mexico GOP Wants Ethics Complaint Tossed - By Cedar Attanasio Ap/Report For America

New Mexico GOP leaders are asking the State Ethics Commission to publicly dismiss an ethics complaint filed against one of its members. 

Democratic House candidate Karen Whitlock says she filed the complaint Monday against rival Rebecca Dow. The complaint says Dow has failed to disclose conflicts of interest in contracts between an educational nonprofit she founded and state child welfare agencies. 

House GOP leader Jim Townsend calls the complaint "absurd" and says it threatens public trust in the newly-formed ethics commission. 

Republicans say the commission can dismiss the complaint outright, and urged it to publicly announce if it did so.


A commission spokesperson said Monday that it cannot acknowledge receiving or dismissing complaints, and won't rule on any complaints against legislators between now and Nov. 3.


Family Of Army Soldier Alleges Foul Play Involved In Death – Associated Press

An Army tank crewman from New Mexico who died at Fort Hood, Texas, messaged his fiance that he was concerned about three men who didn't like him and that something was wrong shortly before his death.

The Army said Pvt. Corlton L. Chee collapsed during fitness training on Aug. 28. He died two days later.

Carma Johnson, Chee's cousin and his family's spokesperson, told the Gallup Independent Monday that Chee was being targeted and did not want to go to the training that morning because  he felt that something was going to happen. They are alleging foul play, which Fort Hood officials deny.

There have been 27 other soldiers who have died at Fort Hood this year. Congress has launched an investigation into all 28 deaths.

Navajo Nation Reports 18 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 18 new confirmed cases of coronavirus with two additional deaths. 

The Navajo Department of Health says there now have been 539 known deaths and 10,059 confirmed cases on the vast reservation since the pandemic began. 

The latest numbers include 49 positive COVID-19 additional cases due to delayed reporting from New Mexico. 

Tribal health officials say 100,809 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 7,190 have recovered. 

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.


Ambassador Says Time Is Right For New Arms Control Agreement - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The Trump administration has sketched out a framework that it hopes will avoid a three-way arms race. Ambassador Marshall Billingslea, the special presidential envoy for arms control, spoke with The Associated Press about negotiations with Russia and efforts to bring China to the table while touring nuclear research labs and production sites in the United States.

Last week's visit to New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee comes as the facilities ramp up modernization of the country's multibillion-dollar nuclear enterprise.

He acknowledged that the proposed treaty would be ambitious but that the time is right for a new agreement to curb the buildup of both nuclear and conventional warheads.