TUES: Governor Rejects Calls To Lift Restrictions, Absentee Voting Proves Popular, + More

May 19, 2020

New Mexico Governor Rejects Call To Lift Virus RestrictionsAssociated Press, KUNM

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham defended her response to the coronavirus pandemic from calls by Republican lawmakers who want her to remove enforced business restrictions.

In a letter Tuesday, Lujan Grisham responded to 13 state senators who want the governor to provide only safety guidelines. The governor says demands for an immediate, full-scale reopening of the economy are reckless and only serve to inflame misinformed public opinion and risk further illness and death.

Lujan Grisham recently eased an emergency health order and allowed many businesses to reopen their doors to customers at a fraction of full capacity.

Tougher restrictions remain in place for dine-in restaurant service, gyms and hair salons. Face coverings are required for everyone in public places with exceptions for outdoor exercise and eating.

The state on Tuesday reported 104 additional positive COVID-19 tests and 6 more deaths. The total number of cases is now 6,096 and 276 people have died.

Four of the 6 who died Tuesday were residents of Life Care Center of Farmington. It’s among 35 congregate living facilities where health officials say at least one staff and/or resident have tested positive.

The state reported 21 people held by the New Mexico Corrections Department at the Otero County Prison Facility have COVID-19. That’s in addition to 38 people held by federal agencies at that facility who have tested positive.  

Absentee Voting Catches On In New Mexico For June 2 Primary – Associated Press

New Mexico is embracing absentee balloting like never before in advance of the state's June 2 primary.

The secretary of state's office on Tuesday released statistics on voting and requests for absentee ballots that indicate a major increase in remote voting by mail compared to the 2016 presidential primary.

Voting by absentee ballot outpaced early in-person voting by a ratio of nearly 3-1 with two weeks to go before Election Day.

Election regulators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are urging eligible voters to cast ballots by mail to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Among closely watched primary races is the 3rd Congressional District's Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján as he runs for Senate as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sen. Tom Udall is retiring after two terms.

Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell and oil executive Claire Chase are locked in an intense competition for the GOP nomination to a congressional swing district in southern New Mexico. That seat is held by first-term Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

The entire Legislature is up for election as prominent moderate Democrats confront primary challenges by more progressive candidates. Democrats currently hold a sizable majority in the state House and Senate.

Raytheon To Move Albuquerque Operations To Other US Sites Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A national aerospace and defense contractor has confirmed plans to pack up operations in New Mexico and move to Arizona and elsewhere.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Raytheon Technologies Corp. will close its office in Albuquerque, where it employs about 200 people. The company says it's looking to streamline its capabilities with pursuits and programs located at other sites around the country.

Raytheon's Albuquerque division has worked closely in recent years with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base to develop laser and microwave weapons.

That work will now be transferred to Raytheon Missiles and Defense headquarters in Tucson. All laid off workers will receive severance packages, and health care coverage will continue during the severance.

Raytheon expanded its operations at the Sandia Science and Technology Park on Albuquerque's south side in 2017. The company received $850,000 in economic development funding from the state to offset the expansion costs. A company official said that money has been returned.

Navajo Nation Reports 69 More Cases; Death Toll Rises By 2Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials report 69 additional cases of COVID-19 with two more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.

The Navajo Nation has been hit hard from the outbreak and tribal officials said the latest figures raised the tribe's total number of cases as of Monday to 4,071 with 142 deaths.

The tribe's reservation includes big parts of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico plus a small part of southeastern Utah.

The Navajo Nation is now testing its citizens at a high rate and President Jonathan Nez said that’s a major reason behind the high number of positive cases.

Preliminary reports indicated that approximately 930 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more results still pending.

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.

New Mexico High Schools Plan Virtual Ceremonies, ParadesAssociated Press

Albuquerque Public Schools is planning virtual high school graduation ceremonies in late June because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In southern New Mexico, Las Cruces schools are gearing up for high school senior drive-thru celebratory parades Thursday and Friday.

Graduation season comes as the state remains under a public health order that encourages people to stay at home and prohibits any gatherings of more than a few people.

Schools have been shut down since March because of the pandemic.

Just recently, the governor relaxed some restrictions on businesses and houses of worship. State health officials have reported near 6,200 coronavirus cases.

For most people, the virus 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.

Fire Restrictions Ordered At 4 Sites In Northern New MexicoAssociated Press

The National Park Service is implementing additional fire restrictions at four park sites in northern New Mexico due to an increasing risk of wildfires in the region.

The additional restrictions apply to Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve near Los Alamos, Fort Union National Monument near Watrous in Mora County and Pecos National Historical Park in San Miguel County.

The restrictions prohibit, among other things, all fires involving campfires, charcoal grills and coal and wood stoves. 

Also, smoking is prohibited except in enclosed vehicles or building, and operating an internal combustion engine off paved or gravel roads is prohibited.

Other prohibited activities including welding or using torches with open flames or using firearms and explosives.

Google Says It Won't Build AI Tools For Oil And Gas Drillers - By Matt O'Brien, AP Technology Writer

Google says it will no longer build custom artificial intelligence tools for speeding up oil and gas extraction, separating itself from cloud computing rivals Microsoft and Amazon.

A statement from the company followed a Greenpeace report Tuesday documenting how the three tech giants are using AI and computing power to help oil companies find and access oil and gas deposits in the U.S. and around the world.

The environmentalist group says Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been undermining their own climate change pledges by partnering with major oil companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil that have looked for new technology to get more oil and gas out of the ground.

But the group applauded Google on Tuesday for taking a step away from those deals. 

Amazon's tools have been deployed to speed up shale extraction, especially from the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

New Mexico's Capital City Forecasts $100M Budget DeficitSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico's capital city is forecasting a budget deficit of $100 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Officials said Monday the staggering shortfall stems from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Santa Fe's Finance Director Mary McCoy said during a virtual news conference that the expected deficit was unprecedented.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported it remains to be seen exactly how the city plans to make up the shortfall, and officials declined to say how residents and city employees might be affected.

The projected gap for the upcoming fiscal year follows an estimated $46 million shortfall in the current fiscal year that triggered furloughs.

Outbreak On Edge Of Navajo Nation Overwhelms Rural Hospital - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A night of revelry before bars and restaurants shut in New Mexico appears to have led to an outbreak in a detox center and homeless shelter in the city of Gallup, on the fringes of the Navajo Nation. 

The outbreak would combine with the local hospital's ill-fated staffing decisions and its well-intentioned but potentially overly ambitious treatment plans to create a perfect storm. 

In all, 22 people infected with the coronavirus were transferred from the detox center to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital, the only acute care medical center for the general public within 110 miles of Gallup. 

The hospital became overwhelmed and now sends all of its critically ill coronavirus patients to other facilities. 

Of about 500 medical and support staff, at least 32 hospital workers have become infected, and doctors and nurses say that they all live with the fear of spreading the virus to their colleagues and relatives. 

Doctors, nurses and hospital executives disagree about who is to blame.

Nursing Home Reviews Ongoing Amid Pandemic KRQE-TV, Associated Press

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office is considering a request by a state lawmaker to look into an Albuquerque rehabilitation center as part of the agency's ongoing review of health and safety concerns at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The office said Monday it received a request from Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes to investigate the eviction of senior residents with disabilities at Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center.

All 54 patients were moved out in April as part of an agreement with state health officials to make room for coronavirus patients. Schmedes called the forced move unconscionable and indefensible.

Albuquerque television station KRQE reported that under the agreement, Canyon would receive $600 a day for each COVID-19 patient admitted and $600 a day for each empty bed, up to 30 empty beds.

Before the agreement, KRQE reported the long-term care facility was receiving about $280 a day to care for a 102-year-old patient, for example.

State health officials have defended the move, saying they needed a place to put COVID-19 patients who were recovering, saying having a designated facility would keep more people safe.

Genesis HealthCare, which runs the rehab center, has said it was honored that the state asked to use its facility and that it moved quickly to convert Canyon into a dedicated COVID-19 recovery center.

New Mexico has nearly 6,000 COVID-19 cases, with more than half located in McKinley and San Juan counties.

New Mexico Passes 6,000 In COVID-19 Cases With 5 More Deaths – KUNM, Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico reported 165 additional positive tests for COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total to 6,096.

Five more people died as well, two in Bernalillo County and 3 in northwest New Mexico. The total death toll is now 270, with McKinley and San Juan counties leading in the number of cases.

There are now 35 congregate living facilities where state health officials say at least one staff and/or resident has tested positive for the virus.

State health officials said there are now 84 cases among people held by federal agencies at four detention centers in the state, with most in the Otero County Prison Facility and the Otero County Processing Center.

State data shows Native Americans make up nearly 58% of cases, despite being just about 11% of the population.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that any non-essential businesses were allowed to re-open over the weekend.

But under order issued Friday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, employers must allow for distancing of six feet between workers and all employees must wear face coverings in the presence of others. They must also be screened before they enter work for COVID-19 symptoms.

Report: New Mexico saw 13.9% drop in home sales in April - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico saw a 13.9% drop in the number of homes sold in April compared with the same month last year. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports New Mexico Association of Realtors said the dip came as Santa Fe County bore the brunt of home sale declines across the state. 

The group says Santa Fe County saw a 34% wallop in April as the coronavirus took a bite out of homebuyers' and sellers' appetites. 

Bernalillo County's sales fell 18.3%, San Juan County's slid 15.8% and booming Sandoval County's eased downward 5.5%. 

Meanwhile, median home prices across New Mexico climbed 7.38% compared with the same period last year to $225,500 in April.

Sheriff Switches Endorsement In Nasty GOP US House Race - Associated Press

An influential sheriff has switched his endorsement in an increasingly nasty Republican primary race for a crucial U.S. House seat in southern New Mexico.

Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage said Monday he is throwing his support behind oil executive Claire Chase for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. 

Cage had originally supported former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell for the nomination. But Cage said he changed his mind after the "personal attacks" against Chase. 

Herrell has faced criticism for exchanging text messages with a cartoonist who was drafting a meme about false rumors Chase had cheated on her first husband.

In a statement, Chase said she was excited to have Cage's support.

A spokesperson for Herrell's campaign did not immediately return a text message. 

Police: New Mexico Sheriff's Deputy Found With Meth - KRQE-TV, Associated Press 

A New Mexico sheriff's deputy has resigned after authorities say they caught him with methamphetamine and a pipe inside his patrol car. 

KRQE-TV reports New Mexico State Police arrested Grant Taylor this month following a call from the Sierra County Sheriff's Department. 

According to a criminal complaint, officers found a glass pipe in the center console of his patrol car, along with two bags of methamphetamine inside the sunglasses holder. 

He was charged with drug possession. 

Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton says he was "disappointed, shocked, and surprised" over the situation.

Court records show Taylor was also charged with possession back in 2011 and pleaded no contest. He was also charged with drunken driving in 2009.

Hamilton did not want to comment on Taylor's criminal history when asked if he knew that before hiring Taylor.

It was not known if Taylor had an attorney. 

New Mexico Forecasters Warn Of Heat, Critical Fire WeatherAssociated Press

Weather forecasters are warning of record heat that is setting the stage for critical fire weather this week.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque says chances for dry thunderstorms will increase for portions of central New Mexico on Tuesday as the forecast calls for low humidity and gusty winds.

State and federal land managers already are imposing fire restrictions for many parts of New Mexico. That includes prohibiting campfires on three of northern New Mexico's national forests starting Wednesday.

Restrictions already are in place for the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico Offers Grants To Boost Youth Outdoor Access Associated Press

New Mexico's Outdoor Recreation Division for the first time is offering what it calls equity grants to local governments, tribes and nonprofit organizations to get more young people outside.

Officials say the Outdoor Equity Fund was created to foster stewardship for the state's natural spaces and its cultural heritage particularly among low-income youth who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to experience the outdoors.

The application deadline is Aug. 1. The grants will range from $1,500 to $15,000 for entities with a plan to educate underrepresented youth about climate change and the environment. 

Decapitated Wild Turkey, Broken Duck Eggs Found At Sanctuary - Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

Authorities are searching for a suspect after the discovery of a decapitated wild turkey and destruction of several duck eggs near a New Mexico bird sanctuary. 

The Roswell Daily Record reports a reward is being offered for any information about the turkey's decapitation and destruction of duck eggs around the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary & Nature Center in Roswell, New Mexico. 

Roswell Parks & Recreation director Jim Burress says the carcass of the wild turkey was found with its head cut off last week on a walking trail at the sanctuary. 

Burress says the culprit could have been an animal such as a raccoon, skunk, or fox, but officials suspect a human because of recent vandalism.

Burress says Parks and Recreation personnel and police are increasing their presence in the area.

Resident and frequent sanctuary visitor Nita Sturges says she's offering a $500 reward out of anger.

No arrests have been made.