TUES: Governor Announces More Business Restrictions Amid Virus Spike, + More

Oct 20, 2020

Business Mandates Mount As New Mexico Deals With Virus Surge - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has unveiled more requirements for businesses after a string of record-breaking daily case counts prompted renewed restrictions just last week.

Starting Friday, restaurants, bars, retail stores, gyms and other businesses must close for two weeks if they have more than four separate outbreaks among employees within a 14-day period.

The state is now publishing a watch list of businesses that have had two or more outbreaks. Sandia National Laboratories is among the businesses being investigated by the state's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau.

A letter sent Monday by the bureau and obtained by The Associated Press alleges that Sandia failed to comply with the health order by not limiting operations to remote work to the greatest extent practicable to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The state claims employees were ordered to cease telework and report to work in-person, but lab officials say the majority of infections among workers were acquired offsite and outside of work hours.

Restaurants that want to continue offering limited indoor dining must also complete specific training and keep a log of customers for at least three weeks. Retail stores must close by 10 p.m., and state-operated museums and historical sites will be closed until further notice.

Lujan Grisham said the restrictions are not meant to punish businesses but rather curb what has become one of the highest rates of spread in the U.S.

New Mexico on Tuesday reported an additional 599 cases, bringing the total to nearly 37,900 since the pandemic began. Another seven deaths were reported, and hospitalizations have increased nearly 90% over the last two weeks.

Despite having some of the strictest rules in the country, Lujan Grisham's administration has been struggling in recent weeks with a surge in cases and increases in transmission and positivity rates. The governor said she believes the exponential increase is the result of people letting their guard down and not taking precautions.

Under the state's rapid response program, officials responded to more than 830 businesses during the past week. That marked a six-fold increase over the last month.

Businesses on the watch list range from hospitals and medical marijuana operations to law firms, car dealerships, grocery stores and gas stations.

The Republican Party of New Mexico called the latest requirements another attack on businesses, saying the Democratic governor's policies during the pandemic have led to a collapsed economy, tens of thousands of job losses and hundreds of permanently shuttered restaurants.

“Locking down New Mexico more is not the answer,” party chairman Steve Pearce said, suggesting that the governor's rules were arbitrary.

Netflix Halts Production In New Mexico Amid Virus CasesAlbuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Netflix has halted production of its Western film "The Harder They Fall" on Thursday after at least two people among the cast and crew tested positive for the coronavirus while working in New Mexico.

The production did not identify the infected people. The production has been required to adhere to state safety guidelines, including facial masks and social distancing. The cast and crew also has been subjected to multiple coronavirus tests a week.

Productions usually wait two weeks with no positive tests before resuming. This film resumed shooting in late September after being shut down in March because of the pandemic.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the New Mexico Rapid Response report listed the positive test at Santa Fe Studios.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported the New Mexico Environment Department, which publishes a daily list of entities in the state reporting newly confirmed coronavirus tests, reported that Netflix confirmed at least five positive test results between Oct. 8 and Oct. 19, with at least two of those reports listed as "THTF," an acronym for the film.

The cast of the Western includes Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba. In March, Elba was one of the first actors to announce he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since recovered.

Window Opens For Virgin Galactic's Final Round Of Testing - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The window opens later this week for the final round of testing of Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered spacecraft as the company inches toward commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses updated New Mexico lawmakers on the progress during a meeting Monday. The space tourism company already has done nine flights from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, including two glide flights by the spaceship.

Moses says the upcoming test will mark the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico. Two pilots will crew the flight and cargo including several research projects will be carried in the cabin.

More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below.

The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles before gliding to a landing.

New Mexico High Court Oks Rule Changes On Pretrial Detention Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has approved rule changes that court officials say will enhance public safety by helping prosecutors assess whether certain felony defendants are dangerous and should be kept in jail while awaiting trial.

The Administrative Office of the Courts said the justices approved the changes last week. A committee of representatives from all three branches of state government had recommended the state revise the justice system's rules for implementing a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016.

The changes include permitting judges to delay certain defendants' initial pretrial release to give prosecutors more time to determine whether pretrial detention is warranted.

Other changes allow judges to schedule detention hearings if prosecutors haven't yet filed a motion for detention and to allow law enforcement records to be used instead of in-person testimony during pretrial detention hearings.

The changes will help in rural areas where prosecutors and defense attorneys often aren't present for a defendant's first appearance before a judge who decides whether a defendant is released and under what conditions, the office said.

The changes take effect for cases pending or filed on or after Nov. 23, the courts office said.

New Mexico Waives Job Search Requirements Amid Pandemic - Associated Press

New Mexico labor officials say they will continue to waive job search requirements until further notice for those receiving unemployment benefits. 

The Workforce Solutions Department made the announcement Monday, citing the increasing number of reported COVID-19 cases in the state. 

Department Secretary Bill McCamley says with the recent spike, the decision was made to give New Mexicans more time before work searches are required. 

The announcement reverses an earlier decision that had required people to report at least two work searches during their weekly certification process beginning Oct. 25. 

The agency is also delaying the opening of its offices for in-person visits to limit spread. Officials are encouraging people to use the department's workforce website to file claims and access job training opportunities and other career services.

GOP Mayor Endorses Torres Small In Close US House Race - Associated Press

A Republican mayor of a southern New Mexico city is throwing his support behind Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for re-election. 

An ad released Tuesday by the Torres Small campaign highlights Republican Deming Mayor Benny Jasso endorsing the Las Cruces Democrat over her GOP challenger, Yvette Herrell. 

Jasso says in the ad that Torres Small has fought for the city 35 miles north of the U.S. Mexican border. 

Torres Small is locked in a tight race with Herrell in the traditionally conservative-leaning district. 

Herrell in August was endorsed by the last Democrat to hold the seat. 

Former U.S. Rep. Harry Teague said he was backing Herrell in November. Teague said Herrell appreciates the impact the energy industry has on the state and will reach across party lines.

Fire Danger Increases As New Mexico Faces Hot, Dry Weather - Associated Press

The Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico is the latest to join other forests in New Mexico and neighboring Arizona that are all at a high, very high or extreme fire danger rating. 

Lincoln officials announced the move to the higher rating Monday, as weather forecasters said more hot, dry weather was on tap for the region this week. 

Forest officials say despite it being late October, multiple fires larger than 1,000 acres have cropped up in the past week, including the Luna Fire in northern New Mexico.

While there are no fire restrictions on the Lincoln forest, officials are asking the public to be careful and to not burn on red flag days.

Data from the U.S. Agriculture Department's statistics service shows there were no reports of precipitation during the past week in New Mexico, and average high temperatures in the state remained 6 to 12 degrees above average for this time of year.

New Mexico Tribes Concerned About Pitch To Expand Gambling - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Native American leaders in New Mexico are raising concerns about a proposal by non-tribal racetracks and casinos to open the state to Las Vegas-style gambling.

They told state lawmakers during a meeting Monday that allowing unlimited slot machines, table games, online gambling and sports wagering at the tracks and casinos would be a "reckless attempt to expand private wealth."

Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuart Paisano said the pueblo's resort and casino on the northern edge of Albuquerque have been closed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday's meeting marked the first time tribal leaders have spoken publicly about the proposal to expand gambling.

Calling the gambling operation the backbone of the pueblo's economy, Paisano said there's considerable uncertainty about how tribal operations will be affected going forward.

The tribal leaders also said they were not approached about the plan until just days before tracks executives testified before another legislative panel earlier this month.

Track executives predict that expanded gambling would boost tourism and ensure the survival of the horse racing industry in New Mexico.

At least a dozen tribes have voiced their reservations about overhauling New Mexico's gambling rules. Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria said Monday his tribe is among those that have outlined their concerns in letters to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state legislative leaders.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, said Monday that the governor's office thoroughly reviews legislation as it makes its way through the Legislature and that would be the case if any measure related to gambling is introduced during the upcoming session in January.

“The governor has a very deep respect for the tribal gaming compacts and their importance to the sovereign nations within our state,” she told The Associated Press.

Lawmakers acknowledged Monday that the proposal could have significant effects on tax revenues paid to the state and that more data is needed to better understand the implications of expanded gambling for the budget as well as tribal communities.

New Mexico Tech Shut Down After Reports Of Weekend Parties – Associated Press

New Mexico Tech has temporarily closed out of caution against COVID-19 after officials learned of several off-campus weekend parties.

University President Stephen Wells announced on the school's website that the campus would be shut down Monday.

According to Wells, between 50-100 students gathered over the weekend at multiple parties in the area surrounding the Socorro campus.

Wells said “it is regrettable that I have to take this extreme measure due to the irresponsibility of a few.”

He warned any student who attended a party should go into self-isolation and report it to the office of the dean of students. Furthermore, the school will attempt to move all classes online.

Wells did not say if the school would remain closed beyond Monday.

Since the school year began, New Mexico Tech has reported four cases of COVID-19.

New Mexico health officials on Monday reported an additional 518 cases, bringing the statewide total to more than 37,300 since the pandemic began. There were also 24 new cases at the Lea County Correctional Center.

There was also one additional death of a man in his 50s in Bernalillo County, bringing that tally to 935.

Navajo Nation Reports 14 New COVID-19 Cases And 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials are confirming 14 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. 

The figures released Monday night bring the total number of cases on the reservation to 10,969. The known death toll now is 574. 

Tribal health officials say 116,676 Navajo people have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,396 have recovered.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation. 

Employees Unionize At Upstart Meow Wolf Arts Venue - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Workers at a popular immersive arts entertainment project have approved the formation of a labor union under the Communications Workers of America umbrella.

Meow Wolf employee Michael Wilson said Tuesday that the move to unionize was approved by a majority of 130 eligible, rank-and-file employees by electronic balloting.

He said the union bargaining unit, Meow Wolf Workers Collective, aims to negotiate a labor contract with company management within a year.

Meow Wolf coined a new brand of family entertainment with its "House of Eternal Return" exhibition in Santa Fe that is currently idled by a statewide pandemic health order.

Meow Wolf laid off just over 200 workers in April but has plans to expand into Las Vegas and Denver next year. Employees there are not covered by the union.

Wilson said the vote to unionize gives workers at a rapidly evolving startup company new assurances of stability in turbulent economic times.

Meow Wolf managers have highlighted the company's current $17 hourly minimum wage, comprehensive benefits and the recent addition of a "chief people officer who shares our commitment and passion for our diversity, equity and inclusion goals."

The company earlier this year reached undisclosed settlement agreements to resolve workplace- and gender-discrimination lawsuits in state district court. Meow Wolf co-founder Vince Kadlubek, named as a defendant in the lawsuits, stepped down as CEO in October 2019.

Meow Wolf May Unionize Amid Pandemic Turmoil - Associated Press

Workers at a popular immersive arts entertainment project were voting Monday on whether to unionize under the Communications Workers of America umbrella, amid economic uncertainty linked to COVID-19. 

Meow Wolf coined a new brand of family entertainment with its "House of Eternal Return" exhibition in Santa Fe that is currently idled by a statewide pandemic health order. 

Meow Wolf has about 270 current employees after laying off just over 200 workers in April amid aggressive state restrictions on businesses'. 

Meow Wolf furloughed more workers, even as it forges ahead with efforts to open venues in Las Vegas in early 2021 and Denver later that year.