THURS: State Short On Contact Tracers, $31M Loss Expected For Sunport, + More

May 14, 2020

Governor Says New Mexico Is Short On Virus-Tracing Personnel - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state is woefully short of professionals devoted to contact tracing aimed at alerting people who are exposed unknowingly to the coronavirus.

The state has about 100 workers devoted to tracing exposure to the disease through interviews with people who have tested positive, when it needs at least 670 professionals.

The state last month embarked on a contact-tracing pilot program but little has been said publicly about the effort. The congressional delegation says New Mexico is in line for more than $77 million in federal funding for testing and contact tracing.

The state has confirmed 242 deaths and more than 5,500 infections statewide, while health officials estimate that current infections are likely much higher because many people have not been tested.

The latest numbers show more than one-third of the new cases and more than half of the 11 deaths reported Thursday were from McKinley County.

The Democratic governor said the state is contracting with a company named Accenture to improve its capabilities for tracing possible exposure to COVID-19 as the state prepares to lighten restrictions on many nonessential businesses.

State Ramps Up Testing, Unveils Map Showing Workplace InvestigationsAssociated Press, KUNM

New Mexico continues to ramp up testing, with total tests now exceeding 115,000 in the state with 2.1 million residents.

Testing was offered this week to the state's entire public and private workforce for any reason, and officials are encouraging multiple tests for people who fear exposure or sense symptoms.

State officials on Thursday also unveiled a new map that shows workplaces that have been investigated on COVID-19 related matters by the state's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau. It includes information about the business, complaints received by the state and responses received from the business during the investigation.

From March 6 to May 8, the bureau received over 200 complaints — twice the number normally received in a two-month period. Complaints range from access to proper personal protective equipment to alleged violations of the state's emergency public health orders.

Navajo Nation President Says Still Not Safe To Go Out In PublicAssociated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says additional deaths and COVID-19 cases reported on the tribe's sprawling reservation indicate it's still not safe for residents to go out in public.

The tribal health department late Wednesday reported 147 more confirmed COVID-19 cases with 16 additional deaths from the coronavirus outbreak. The increases put the number of cases at 3,392 with a total of 119 deaths.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said residents should still should stay home and only go out in public when necessary.

The reservation includes large areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Albuquerque Man Pleads Guilty In Threats CaseAssociated Press

Officials say an Albuquerque man has pleaded guilty after being accused of posting Facebook messages threatening to kill New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, law enforcement officers and other government officials.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico said 34-year-old Daniel Logan Mock plead guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to two counts of transmission of threatening communications in interstate commerce.  

The office says Mock acknowledged in a plea agreement that he posted threatening messages on March 2 and March 13. According to a statement issued by the office, Mock faces up to five years in prison on each count when he's sentenced.

Contractor Found Dead In Railroad Tank Car In New MexicoCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

An oil refining company says a man from Marshall, Texas has died in a possible industrial accident while performing an inspection on a railroad tank car in southeastern New Mexico.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported that Marathon Petroleum Corporation identified the man as 49-year-old Cody B. Vernon. He was pronounced dead Tuesday by medical personnel at the Marathon Rio Hub Rail Terminal in Loving.

Company spokesperson Jamal T. Kheiry said Vernon was a contractor performing an inspection on the tank car. A second contractor, who remained unnamed, called emergency responders.

Capt. Matt Hutchinson said his body was sent to Albuquerque for an autopsy. An investigation is ongoing.

Jets To Conduct Flyover Over Southern New Mexico On FridayAssociated Press

A formation of U.S. Air Force jets on Friday will conduct a flyover in southern New Mexico to show appreciation for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Holloman Air Force Base officials said four F-16s from the base outside Alamogordo will fly over hospitals and other sites in Roswell, Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Alamogordo and Las Cruces between 5;25 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Similar flyovers have been  conducted around the country as part of a campaign called "Air Force Salutes." 

New Mexico OKs More Businesses To Open, Mandates Masks - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico is giving the green light for nonessential businesses including retailers and service providers to reopen come Saturday while mandating that face masks be worn in public with few exceptions. 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news videoconference from the state Capitol Wednesday that the next public health order will allow retail businesses to reopen at 25% of ordinary occupancy to avoid crowding and guard against coronavirus transmission. Large retailers have a 20% limit. 

Lujan Grisham said the state was on target to potentially open dine-in restaurant service in early June. She said safety concerns are making it difficult to allow hair salons and gyms anytime soon. 

Strict limits on nonessential business will remain in place in northwestern New Mexico, which includes a portion of the vast Navajo Nation.

New Mexico health officials cautioned that infections among children are surging, complicating efforts to reopen the economy and provide summer recreation programs. Lujan Grisham referred to children as potential "super-spreaders" of COVID-19.

No date has been set for public schools to reconvene.

Department Of Health In Management Negotiations With Criticized Gallup Hospital - Associated Press 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that the state secretary of health is in negotiations to have a "qualified hospital administrator" take the reins of day-to-day operations at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup, where medical staff last week held a street protest to complain of inadequate staffing and urge hospital CEO David Conejo to resign.

She said the negotiations are designed to avoid protracted litigation or receivership proceedings.

About 17 nurses were cut from the Rehoboth hospital workforce in March as the pandemic bore down on New Mexico, and at least 32 staff have tested positive for the virus, according to the hospital's chief medical officer and other hospital officials.

Those events and the departure last week of the hospital's pulmonologist have limited its ability to treat COVID-19 patients, as people with acute respiratory symptoms are transported to Albuquerque facilities. 

Further details of management negotiations were unavailable.

Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital also is under mounting pressure to comply with a financial audit. State Auditor Brian Colón said he has given hospital officials a week to deliver additional financial documents to independent auditors and that public confidence was fading in management at the 60-bed hospital funded in part by property taxes.


Navajo Nation Reports 41 New Coronavirus Cases, 1 More Death Associated Press

The Navajo Nation’s health department is reporting 41 new cases of coronavirus and one more death on the vast reservation.

Tribal officials said there have been 3,245 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday night with 103 known deaths.

Most of the positive cases are in New Mexico’s McKinley County (867) and Arizona’s Apache County (846).

Tribal health officials said many of the people who tested positive for coronavirus have recovered or are in the process of recovering.

For most people, the 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. The vast majority of people recover.

The Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with the tribe implementing curfews to try to stop the spread of the disease among residents of its far-flung communities.

The reservation extends into parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.


Officials Expect $31M Loss For New Mexico's Largest Airport - Associated Press

With a drastic reduction in traffic at New Mexico's largest airport, Albuquerque officials say they're estimating revenue loss from fiscal year 2020 to 2022 at $31 million. 

City officials said Wednesday that the Albuquerque International Sunport is getting more than $19.7 million in grant money as part of federal relief efforts aimed at easing financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The funds are part of nearly $10 billion allocated to more than 3,000 U.S. airports. 

The extent to which the funds will cover long-term lost revenue is unclear, so Mayor Tim Keller says the city is planning a layered approach based on the scope and rate of recovery. 

New Mexico Forester Issues Restrictions Due To Fire DangerAssociated Press

New Mexico's state forester is imposing immediate restrictions on fireworks, campfires, smoking and open fires on all non-municipal, non-federal and non-tribal lands statewide because of the escalating fire danger.

The Forestry Division of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department announced the restrictions yesterday, saying they took effect immediately and are necessary to protect communities.

A statement issued by the division cited warmer temperatures, lower humidity, high winds and an abundance of dry vegetation.

The fire danger is amplified by the strain put on firefighting resources by the coronavirus pandemic, the division said.

Smoking is prohibited on the lands covered by the order unless within an enclosed building, within vehicles with ashtrays and in certain other conditions, the division said.

Campfires are prohibited except with the use of gas and kerosene fuel in a cleared area in an improved camping area, the division said.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland Picks Favorite For Open House Seat - Associated Press

A progressive voice in New Mexico's congressional delegation is endorsing attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez in a crowded Democratic primary for the state's 3rd Congressional District seat. 

Leger Fernandez was endorsed Wednesday by Albuquerque-based U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland. 

Haaland is a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo and was chairwoman of the state Democratic Party before winning election to Congress in 2018. 

The endorsement holds implications for Democratic candidates including former CIA operative Valerie Plame and Santa Fe-based District Attorney Marco Serna. 

The Democratic primary is likely to be decisive in the open race to succeed Rep. Ben Ray Luján as he runs for U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Tom Udall.

New Mexico Sewage Treatment Plant Gets Odor Control Technology - Associated Press

More than $15 million has been spent on new odor control technology at a sewage treatment plant that serves New Mexico's most populated area. 

Officials with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority announced this week that the new technology brings the decades-old plant into the 21st Century. 

The project is part of a 10-year, $250 million plant overhaul that's now more than halfway complete. 

The odor control system includes four low-profile aluminum covers. Each dome is about 160 feet in diameter and designed to contain odor-causing compounds emanating from the plant's clarifier tanks.

The covers were assembled on-site and took about two hours each to be lifted into place. Construction of the new system began in November 2018, with the first dome cover being put in service in January 2019.

Panel To Consider Petition Seeking Pecos River ProtectionsAssociated Press

More than 200 miles of the Pecos River, its tributaries and other parts of the upper reaches of the northern New Mexico watershed would be protected from future degradation under a petition being considered by state regulators.

Farmers, environmentalists and local officials are petitioning the state Water Quality Control Commission for an “outstanding national waters” designation. The commission agreed Tuesday to consider the petition and set a hearing for November.

The move comes as residents have come out against a mining company's proposal to conduct exploratory drilling.

Those behind the petition say the Pecos watershed supports agriculture as well as an economy that draws millions of dollars each year from hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

They also point to the cultural significance of the area, saying that since the mid-16th century people there have depended on the Pecos River to feed traditional irrigation systems called acequias to grow crops and raise livestock. Many of the canals are still used today.

New Mexico Hit With Infestation Of Moths After Hibernation - KRQE-TV, Associated Press

An infestation of moths has hit the state of New Mexico amid an ideal climate for the invading bugs. 

KRQE-TV reports thousands of moths have been seen in state parks, outside of homes, and along highways. 

Albuquerque BioPark Curator of Entomology Jason Schaller says the moths come from a family called Noctuidae. 

He says most of them are medium to small, brownish and greyish. 

Schaller says this influx of moths has been going on for the last two years. 

He says they spend the winters hibernating under rocks and soil as caterpillars, and others fly down south. 

The infestation is prompting New Mexico residents to post photos and videos on social media about the invading bugs.