TUES: New Mexico Launches Free At-Home COVID Testing And App To Register For Vaccine Cue, + More

Dec 22, 2020

  New Mexico Makes Push With At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is partnering with a national health care company to provide free, at-home COVID-19 test kits.

State health officials said Tuesday that the kits can be ordered via Vault Medical Services' website. All that's needed is an internet connection, email address and a photo.

Recipients can mail the sample back for processing after self-administering the test with a virtual testing supervisor. Results will be returned within 24 to 48 hours of being received by the lab.

State officials acknowledged the lack of broadband access around New Mexico and said the new at-home option is meant to bolster the in-person testing clinics that have been operating since the pandemic began.

The state also is launching a new registration app where people can sign up for vaccinations. More than 14,000 shots have been administered to health care workers so far.

The state is now averaging more than 14,000 tests a day and that's expected to grow with the new program. In all, more than 1.8 million tests have been done since the beginning of the pandemic.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement that expanded testing will help drive down positivity rates because health officials can better understand the scope and spread of the virus.

The positivity rate is among the benchmarks the state considers when determining whether the risk level is decreasing and counties can begin to relax public health restrictions.

An early glitch on the Vault website asked for credit card information and charged over $100 for the tests, but officials said the problem was corrected.

Health officials reported an additional 1,272 confirmed cases Tuesday, pushing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 132,000. Another 23 deaths also were reported, bringing that tally to more than 2,200.

Top health officials said during a briefing that New Mexico appears to be on the downside of the latest surge as the seven-day rolling average of confirmed cases has been declining. While test positivity remains high, it's lower than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

New Mexico Utility Has Plan For Growing Electric Vehicle Use - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric provider has a plan for incentivizing the buildout of infrastructure that would be needed to bolster the use of electric vehicles in the expansive state where even gas stations can be few and far between.

The Public Service Co. of New Mexico filed the proposal with state regulators last week. Utility officials say it's the result of more than a year of research and community outreach.

The proposal includes customer rebates for charging infrastructure and charging during off-peak times.

If the Public Regulation Commission approves, the utility says a full program rollout could happen as early as 2022.

The application marks the first one filed by PNM under a 2019 law that requires public utilities to submit plans to the Public Regulation Commission by 2021 for how they will expand the infrastructure for electric transportation.

The law calls for regulators to take into account several factors, including how the plans will increase access to the use of electric vehicles by underserved communities and whether any reductions in pollution can be expected.

Utilities also can recover reasonable costs related to implementation of the plans through increases in customer rates. PNM estimates its program will cost close to $8.5 million over two years.

PNM currently owns and operates four free charging stations — two in Santa Fe, one at a visitor center in Silver City and another at an Albuquerque shopping mall.

In Santa Fe, the state on Monday announced the installation of 30 new charging stations for use by both government and private vehicles. The General Services Department oversaw the $1.5 million project and plans to ask the Legislature for another $1 million to continue its shift to electric vehicles.

Navajo Nation Reports 151 New Coronavirus Cases, 7 DeathsAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation is reporting 151 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths from COVID-19.

The latest figures were reported Tuesday by the Navajo Department of Health for the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation has reported 755 deaths since the pandemic hit. The Health Department says the first doses of the recently approved vaccine made by Moderna have arrived at the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

The Navajo Nation is in a three-week lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicine or traveling to an essential job.

New Mexico's US Attorney To Join Santa Fe Practice – Associated Press

New Mexico's top federal prosecutor is stepping down as president Donald Trump prepares to leave office. U.S. Attorney John Anderson announced his resignation Tuesday effective just before midnight on Jan. 2.

He says he'll join a law firm in the Santa Fe area. Anderson was an assistant U.S. attorney in New Mexico for five years before joining Holland & Hart in Santa Fe in 2013.

Trump appointed him U.S. attorney in 2017 and he was confirmed by the Senate early the next year.

Attorney General William Barr says in a statement that Anderson's performance in office "brought great credit" upon himself and the Department of Justice.


More Shipments Of COVID-19 Vaccine Are Heading To New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Officials with some of the major hospitals in New Mexico say they expect to finish giving their employees the COVID-19 vaccine in the next two to three weeks as more doses arrive.

Thousands of front-line health care workers have already received their shot. Like other states, New Mexico learned last week it would be getting about one-third fewer doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The initial shipments of the second vaccine, by Moderna, will be arriving soon. Those will be funneled to staff and residents at long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

While some politicians have received their shots, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and members of her Cabinet have not.

While the number of confirmed cases reported each day has decreased, Lujan Grisham on Monday reiterated her call for people to be cautious during the holidays and not give the virus an opportunity to spread. She said a post-holiday surge would derail the state's progress.

During a briefing, hospital officials reported overwhelming interest from their employees in getting the vaccine. They also said there have yet to be any adverse reactions beyond arm soreness and fatigue.

At University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, the initial focus has been on employees — whether they are doctors, nurses, physical therapists or part of the cleaning crew — who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

More than 130,800 confirmed cases have been reported in New Mexico since the pandemic began. That includes an additional 826 cases reported Monday, marking one of the lowest daily totals in several weeks.

Meanwhile, the state’s death toll inched closer to 2,200, with an additional nine deaths reported Monday. Hospital officials said the statewide tally is reflective of the high incidence among New Mexicans of underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Premium Oil And Gas Tracts In Short Supply In New Mexico - Associated Press

The State Land Office says there are fewer premium tracts available for leasing by oil and gas developers on trust land, particularly in the Permian Basin. 

The agency said Monday that's having an effect on revenues. 

Lease sales netted nearly $17 million for the year, marking a decrease of nearly 68% when compared to 2019. 

The sale completed earlier this month brought in more than $2.3 million for 2,880 acres. 

After the December sale, only 9% of state trust land mineral estate in the premium part of the Permian Basin is available to be leased, according to the agency.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said that means all or almost all of the premium trust land tracts could be held by a lease within the next few years.

Revenues generated from the drilling and other development on state trust land is used to fund public schools, colleges and hospitals. 

Despite the record drop in prices earlier this year and the economic fallout stemming from the pandemic, industry officials say the Permian Basin has remained productive.

Oil And Gas Deliver Revenues To New Mexico Despite Pandemic - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Oil and gas development infused $2.8 billion into New Mexico coffers during the 2020 fiscal year despite a global price war and plummeting demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association on Monday released a report on the industry's economic impact. It shows that record production helped push revenues to their second-highest total ever reported.

The industry group says oil and gas revenues accounted for one-third of total state spending. Much of that went toward education.

Federal mineral leasing was the single largest source of oil and gas revenue for the state at more than $800 million.

Straddling southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, the area is one of the most prolific plays in the world as major energy companies have spent the last several years consolidating their focus on the region.

However, the pace of development on federal lands is expected to change under a Biden administration, which already has vowed to target fossil fuels as part of its climate campaign.

That includes blocking any rollbacks of environmental laws and banning new permits for drilling on federally managed public lands.

President-elect Joe Biden recently nominated U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, which oversees oil and gas development on federal land.

A co-sponsor of the progressive movement's Green New Deal, the New Mexico Democrat has said that she supports a ban on fracking and has suggested that leasing policies need to change to encourage more renewable energy development.

While drawing the praise of environmentalists, Haaland's stance on energy development has concerned many in New Mexico given the poverty-stricken state's dependence on oil and gas revenues.

Some New Mexico politicians also have been mounting pressure on the industry as part of Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's push to limit methane emissions and other pollution.

Navajo Officials Urge Vigilance Over COVID During Holidays – Associated Press

Officials on the Navajo Nation are urging residents to remain steadfast in preventing the spread of the coronavirus amid the holidays.

The tribe reported 157 new cases of the coronavirus as of Sunday, the lowest daily count this month.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez says the cases spiked following Thanksgiving, and he doesn't want to see a repeat after Christmas. He encouraged people to celebrate with only others in their household.

The tribe has reported 21,019 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began and 746 deaths.

New Mexico State University Grows Brand With Official Coffee - Associated Press

New Mexico State University is growing its brand with a new coffee.

Named after the desert peak that looms over the Las Cruces campus, "A" Mountain Roast adds to the school's collection of collegiate-licensed products. 

NMSU already has an official beer, wine and whiskey. 

The school announced the new coffee and its partnership with California-based Estas Manos Coffee Roasters on Monday. 

A portion of the proceeds will support more than 400 student athletes. 

School officials say the coffee will be available online, at Estas Manos popup locations and at other Las Cruces retailers beginning Tuesday.

Athletic Director Mario Moccia said he's been looking forward to having an official Aggie coffee for some time.

Estas Manos was founded in 2018 by Nicholas Gonzales, along with business partner Leandra Gamboa. The company works to help farmers and farming communities in Latin America through sustainable coffee sourcing and production. Gamboa is from Las Cruces and a graduate of NMSU. 

Midwestern Universities Form Alliance To Lure Space Command Omaha World-Herald, Associated Press

Four Midwestern universities have formed a space-oriented academic and research alliance aimed at luring the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that University of Nebraska President Ted Carter says the partnership with the University of North Dakota, Kansas State University and Purdue would develop new degree programs and research initiatives. Offutt is among the six finalists to become the headquarters.

Other finalists are Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama and the former Kelly Air Force Base in Texas.