THURS: State Sees Second-Highest Daily Virus Spike, Groups Seek Meetings On LANL Work, + More

Jul 2, 2020

Groups Call For Meetings As US Lab Preps For Weapons Work - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Several groups are asking state and federal officials to hold semi-annual public meetings as Los Alamos National Laboratory prepares to resume and ramp up production of key components for the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

The groups outlined their request in a recent letter to the U.S. Energy Department and the New Mexico Environment Department.

Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico is in line for more federal funding to manufacture plutonium triggers for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The work will be split between LANL and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. At stake are jobs and billions of federal dollars to upgrade buildings or construct new factories.

State environmental officials are considering a draft air emissions permit that would regulate emissions from the lab's manufacturing facilities.

Members of New Mexico's Democratic congressional delegation have supported the plutonium work, saying it will bring more funding to the region.

But watchdog groups have been critical over the decades, citing repeated missed deadlines, overspent budgets and concerns about the generation of new radioactive waste.

New Mexico Records Second-Highest Number Of COVID Cases In Single Day Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

State health officials announced 248 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with three additional deaths.

The Albuquerque Journal reported it was the second-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic and was partially driven by a doubling of cases in Bernalillo County in one day to 97.

The total number of cases is now 12,520 and 503 people have died. During a public briefing Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new public health order that will including aggressive enforcement of mask requirements.

People who do not wear masks in public places can be fined $100. Businesses that flout the health order will see workplace citations and misdemeanor criminal charges.

Lujan Grisham urged people to forgo family gatherings and public celebrations on Independence Day and warned that infection trends could interfere with efforts to resume classes at public schools. 

The state is holding off on changes to its public health order until July 15, after reopening restaurants and breweries at partial capacity in June.

Home Deliveries Don't Get Food-Tax Exemption During Pandemic - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Taxes are being levied on home-delivered groceries that are tax free when purchased at stores in New Mexico, undercutting incentives to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

A panel of government income experts noted the problem Thursday as they delved into the financial consequences of COVID-19 and New Mexico's stay-at-home order to avoid infections.

New Mexico lawmakers removed the gross receipts tax from sales of most food items in 2004, but the exemption covers only on-site sales.

Gross receipt taxes on sales and services range from about 5.5% in some rural areas to more than 9% in Española.

Roswell Teen Charged For November Online School ThreatAssociated Press

The FBI says a teenage boy who made online threats that led to the lockdown of Roswell High School is facing a federal charge.

FBI officials said in a news release Wednesday that the 18-year-old has been charged with interstate communications containing a threat to injure the person of another.

According to authorities, Herbert went on the social media app Snapchat on Nov. 12. He allegedly posted a message with an image of a semi-automatic weapon and a threat specifically targeted at Roswell High School.

The message led to Roswell High School being shut down. The boy remains in custody.

Virgin Galactic Prepares To Unveil Spaceship's InteriorAssociated Press

Virgin Galactic is preparing to unveil the cabin interior of its spaceship as final testing of the craft nears completion in southern New Mexico.

The space tourism company on Tuesday announced that the cabin's interior will be revealed during a virtual event planned for July 28 that will be streamed on YouTube.

Company officials consider the cabin of SpaceShipTwo the centerpiece of a customer's journey, saying it was designed to provide a level of intimacy as customers are launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below.  

More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets for a flight aboard Virgin Galactic's spacecship. The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles before gliding to a landing.

Officials have yet to offer a date for the start of commercial flights, saying final testing is ongoing. The next round of tests will involve rocket-powered flights.

New Mexico Announces $100 Fines For Flouting Face Mask Rule - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday said there will be more aggressive enforcement of the state's public health order, including individual fines, to rein in rising coronavirus infection rates across the state.

The Democratic governor said people who ignore mask requirements in public places can be fined $100 and that businesses that flout the health order will see workplace citations and misdemeanor criminal charges.

Three new deaths linked to the coronavirus brought the statewide death toll to 500 since the outbreak of the pandemic in March. Health officials stressed their concerns about an increase in the rate of spread, particularly in the southeast area of the state near Texas and in the Albuquerque area.

Lujan Grisham urged people to forgo family gatherings and public celebrations on Independence Day and warned that infection trends could interfere with efforts to resume classes at public schools. 

The state is holding off on changes to its public health order until July 15, after reopening restaurants and breweries at partial capacity in June.

New Mexico is re-applying a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all out-of-state visitors, the governor announced.

Health officials stopped short of reinstating prior restrictions, even as California closed bars, theaters and restaurant dining in most of the state. Confirmed cases in California have increased nearly 50% over the past two weeks.

The rise was less pronounced in New Mexico, where the number of known infections increased by 130 on Wednesday to 12,276. That tally represents a 12% increase from 10,990 cases a week ago.

Scrase said out-of-state travel by New Mexico residents appears to be a contributing factor, as Arizona and Texas grapple with infection surges. Nearly one in 10 people who have tested positive had traveled outside the state, Scrase said.

New Mexico Joins Federal Coronavirus Testing Effort - Associated Press

New Mexico has agreed to participate in a federal effort to dramatically boost U.S. screening for the coronavirus. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a briefing Wednesday that the program uses pooled testing that combines test samples into batches. 

The commitment stems from a visit this week by Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator.

At the same time, the governor faulted federal authorities for failing to take effective action to contain the virus.

"There is no federal strategy," Lujan Grisham said. "If the federal strategy early in this pandemic had been to require all Americans to wear masks, more things would be open, fewer people would die, and the rate of infection and transmission for the entire country would be much lower."

UNM And NMSU Student-Athletes Test Positive For Coronavirus - Associated Press

Student-athletes at New Mexico’s two largest universities have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Dozens of coronavirus tests were done over the weekend on student-athletes, coaches and staff at the University of New Mexico.  Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez says the tests were conducted in preparation for the start of voluntary workouts at state’s flagship university. Nuñez says that one test was positive.

At New Mexico State University, six student-athletes and a trainer recently tested positive, prompting school officials to temporarily shut down a weight training center on campus.

Albuquerque School District Gets Interim SuperintendentAssociated Press

A longtime educator has been named the interim superintendent of the Albuquerque public school district.

Scott Elder took the reins Wednesday, replacing Raquel Reedy, who retired June 30. The school board suspended its national search for a new superintendent when schools closed in March due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In anticipation of related budget cuts, Elder said the district is looking at ways to save money.

Elder started his career with the Albuquerque district teaching students whose native language wasn't English. He also worked as a principal and later chief operations officer.

New Mexico County Moves To Spend Money On Police CamerasAssociated Press, KUNM

Commissioners in New Mexico's most populous county have taken another step toward outfitting the sheriff's department with body cameras.

The Bernalillo County Commission voted Tuesday to appropriate $1 million that had been approved last year through an administrative resolution. The money can be used to purchase cameras, support services, subscriptions and infrastructure for the camera systems.

The move comes as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham considers signing a bill that would mandate cameras for nearly all state and local law enforcement officers.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, who has been outspoken about his opposition to the body-worn cameras in the past, says if the legislation is signed, he'll ensure the technology is used to secure the constitutional rights and safety of all citizens.

Under the legislation, video must be archived for 120 days, and police agencies that flout the camera requirement could be sued for withholding evidence.

The bill also includes sanctions for police convicted for unlawful use of force or failure to stop excessive force by colleagues -- permanently revoking police certification unless the conviction is pardoned by the governor.

The police accountability reforms would provide exceptions for tribal authorities.

Critics have said the mandates would be financially burdensome for police agencies.

Pandemic Forces Shuffling Of New Mexico Horse Racing Meet - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

With the New Mexico State Fair being called off, the horse races that usually coincide with the annual event are being cancelled too. 

State regulators approved a motion to nix the fair races during a special meeting Wednesday. 

They also approved changes to the race dates and stakes schedule for The Downs at Albuquerque. 

The changes mean this year's meet at the Downs will start later, running from Aug. 8 through Sept. 20. 

New Mexico's horse tracks and casinos have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. After a brief hiatus, races resumed at Ruidoso Downs in May but without spectators.

The revenue brought in by the casinos during race meets helps to subsidize racing. Without the slot machines and tables, some track owners have suggested losses per day could reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Navajo Nation Reports 17 Additional COVID-19 Cases, 1 DeathAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 17 additional cases of coronavirus with one additional death.

That put the number of positive COVID-19 cases on the reservation at 7,549 as of Tuesday night with the known death toll at 364.

Reports from a dozen health care facilities on and near the Navajo Nation indicate some 5,218 have recovered and at least 55,626 people have been tested so far.

Navajo Nation officials have extended the closure of tribal government offices and ordered residents to stay home for another three weeks as the number of coronavirus cases rises outside the reservation.

The restrictions had been set to expire July 5. They are now in place until July 26 and include three more weekend lockdowns.

Albuquerque To Encourage 'Little Free Libraries' In City  - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

The city of Albuquerque and a Wisconsin-based group have agreed on a new initiative to encourage residents to build "Little Free Libraries" throughout the region. 

The Little Free Library nonprofit organization announced this week that Albuquerque will help volunteers create small spaces where residents can trade books amid the pandemic. 

Under the agreement, the city's Office of Civic Engagement's​ ​One ABQ Volunteers​ program will work to expand the number of free libraries across the city. 

Since 2009, tens of thousands of little free libraries have sprung up in the U.S. and more than 100 countries.