TUES: State Mandates Face Masks For Some Essential Workers, + More

May 5, 2020

New Mexico Mandates Face Masks At Retail Stores, Restaurants – Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is ordering workers at retail stores and restaurants to wear face coverings as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, starting with big box stores and major grocery stores on Wednesday.

The requirement extends to other essential businesses starting on Monday. A new testing strategy for the state prison system also was announced Tuesday, and the state plans to underwrite a monthly hazard bonus for child care workers.  

New Mexico health officials are confirming six new deaths and 107 confirmed infections linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the state has not yet achieved a uniform downward trend in infections and aggregated cell phone data shows that residents are traveling more.

Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced that the state will begin systematically testing prison inmates for the first time. By May 13, the state intends to test all guards and staff, along with 25% of inmates. Incoming inmates will be tested and isolated from the general prison population for 14 days as a precaution against virus transmission.

Face Masks Will Be Mandatory For Some Workers – Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

Essential workers in restaurants and larger retail stores in New Mexico will be required to wear masks or face coverings starting Wednesday and that will expand to include smaller retailers as well by May 11.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a briefing on coronavirus Tuesday that there is a danger of increased transmissions of COVID-19 because there are too many people in New Mexico failing to wear masks in public and stay six feet away from others.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase cited a recent article in the journal Infectious Disease Modeling that found that if 80 % of state residents wore a face covering that was only 50% effective it could save 1,789 lives. However, Lujan Grisham stopped short of mandating everyone wear a face covering. She cited difficulties in enforcement and using laws to shift human behavior.

The state had 107 more positive cases Tuesday bringing the total number to 4,138. There were five more deaths as well, bringing that total to 162.

State officials are hoping to start reopening restaurants and other businesses by mid-May, but Lujan Grisham said people must continue social distancing for that to happen.

Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel also said the state will increase testing of correctional guards and inmates and also increase isolation procedures to limit the virus spread in detention facilities.

Workers At New Mexico Meat Plant Tested For CoronavirusAssociated Press, KUNM

More than 400 workers at a meat packing plant in southern New Mexico have been tested after state officials an employee at the facility turned up positive for COVID-19. Officials confirmed Tuesday there are now five positive cases.

Test kits for the workers were flown to the state Health Department's lab in Albuquerque for processing Monday and Tuesday. Health officials said the facility, Stampede Meat in Santa Teresa, is still safely operating and employees already are following state and federal guidelines for safe food handling.

New Mexico has 4,138 cases as of Tuesday and 162 deaths. Several thousand tests have been done in Doña Ana County, turning up 170 total cases — far less than McKinley, Bernalillo, Sandoval and San Juan counties. McKinley County, which includes Gallup and part of the Navajo Nation, accounts for three of every 10 cases statewide.

The Civil Air Patrol also has helped transport test kits from Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces to the Albuquerque laboratory and delivered a shipment of personal protective equipment to the Farmington area and brought test kits to the lab on the way back.

Richardson Recruits Actors To Help Raise Funds For Southern NMAssociated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has recruited two Hollywood actors to help raise money for areas of Doña Ana County that were already struggling before the pandemic.

Colonias — the unincorporated, low-income areas along the U.S.-Mexico border — often lack adequate housing and potable water, but the issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Richardson's philanthropic foundation is partnering with the Las Cruces Sun-News to promote a relief fund, the newspaper reported this week. Richardson says he reached out to Edward James Olmos and Danny Trejo to see if they would join.

The fund has amassed $40,000. The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico will process applications for those looking for assistance. The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico will manage the fund.

Trejo runs his own taco restaurants in Los Angeles, where he has been helping to hand out food to families and health care workers.

New Mexico Man Pleads Guilty In Case Involving DNA TrackingAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A man in New Mexico could face at least a decade in prison after investigators used an unusual technique of tracking DNA through a genealogy service to link him to a 2015 rape.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Angel Gurule pleaded guilty Monday to criminal sexual penetration in what authorities believe is the state's first case of an arrest made after investigators uploaded his DNA profile to the database that allows members of the public to investigate their heritage.

Defense attorney Raymond Maestas said he plans to present evidence of mitigating factors during the sentencing hearing, including details of childhood trauma and testimony by psychologists who examined Gurule.

State Supreme Court Denies Petition To Release Inmates Due To COVID-19 Risks - KRQE-TV, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has denied a petition to release inmates in state prisons because of the COVID-19 threat.

KRQE-TV reported attorneys with the Law Offices of the Public Defender, ACLU of New Mexico and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Attorneys Association argued it was cruel and unusual punishment to keep hundreds of inmates in custody.

They also said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Department of Corrections are “deliberately and intentionally” putting prisons at risk.

The petition asked for the immediate release of those inmates at risk of serious illness from COVID-19, those within a year of release, and those held on infractions such as parole and probation violations. 

Attorneys also argued for widespread testing to find asymptomatic people in prison.

The request goes beyond the releases already ordered by Gov. Lujan Grisham in early April.

Absentee Ballot Push Begins For New Mexico's June 2 Primary - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Election authorities are starting to deliver absentee ballots in a concerted effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission at polling places in New Mexico's June 2 primary. 

The first trickle of voting was scheduled to start Tuesday at the offices of 33 county clerks throughout the state, where ballots can be filled out in person or dropped off. 

New Mexico's governor and secretary of state are encouraging as many people as possible to vote by absentee ballot. 

Secretary of State's Office spokesperson Alex Curtas says about 985,000 applications for absentee ballots have been sent to potential voters. More than 91,000 requests for absentee ballots have been made.

The state Supreme Court last month rejected a proposal to suspend most in-person voting.

In-person voting will be offered more broadly at early voting centers starting May 16 and on Election Day at traditional precinct polls.

186 New COVID-19 Cases Remain Concentrated In Northwest New Mexico – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press, KUNM News

New Mexico health officials reported 5 new coronavirus-related deaths Monday, pushing the state total to 156. Also Monday, 186 new cases of the virus were announced, bringing that total to 4,031 cases statewide.

The Albuquerque Journal reports all but 50 of the 186 new positive tests and 2 of the 5 newly announced deaths were located in the state’s northwestern counties of McKinley and San Juan, where infection spread remains concentrated.

The other two deaths reported yesterday occurred in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.

Hospital Praises Lockdown On City On Edge Of Navajo Nation - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Medical personnel on the front lines of a rural coronavirus hot spot on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation are praising an aggressive lockdown involving roadblocks and the National Guard as they grapple with infections that have spilled over to hospital staff.

About 30 employees at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services in Gallup have tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to the logistical and psychological challenges of caring for a surge of COVID-19 patients at the 60-bed hospital.

Rehoboth McKinley and the 100-bed Gallup Indian Medical Center are contending together with one of the most virulent surges of coronavirus infections in rural America.

A local high school gymnasium has been converted with help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into a recuperation facility with 60 oxygen-supplied beds.

New Mexico reported 4,031 positive COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with about 30% of them in McKinley County. There were five more deaths Monday as well, bringing the state’s total to 156.

The emergency declaration for Gallup will remain in effect until noon Thursday.

New Mexico Utility Starts Work On Major Pipeline Project Associated Press

A New Mexico utility has started work on a major infrastructure project that will stretch from Bernalillo to Santa Fe.

New Mexico Gas Co. announced Monday that the new pipeline will boost capacity and reliability for natural gas customers in northern New Mexico. As part of the project, crews will be installing a larger pipeline along an existing route that spans 35 miles along Interstate 25.

Officials say the work will not interfere with traffic along the highway, but motorists can expect construction signs and turning trucks on nearby roadways as sections of pipe are brought in.

Construction should be done by the winter.

GOP US House Primary In New Mexico Gets Personal, Nasty- By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A candidate in a contentious Republican U.S. House primary in southern New Mexico is calling for one of her opponents to withdraw as the race turns personal and nasty. 

Oil executive Claire Chase demanded Monday that former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell leave the race over accusations Herrell was pushing rumors around Chase's first marriage. 

Retired Marine and Chase supporter Jared Richardson told The Associated Press that Herrell called last month after he announced his support for Chase on social media and told him that Chase cheated on her first husband while he was deployed in Afghanistan. Chase says the accusations are false. 

Herrell denied spreading the rumors and promised to protect herself against libel. Late Monday, Herrell added she would not be dropping out of the race.

New Mexico Highlands University To See 4% Tuition Hike - Las Vegas Optic, Associated Press

Another New Mexico college will be raising its tuition amid uncertainty over state funding and the economy. 

The Las Vegas Optic reports the New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents voted last week to increase tuition by 4%. 

The hike applies to all tuition and fees except for tuition for certain online programs, such as the nursing and alternative licensure programs. 

The tuition rate for a full-time, in-state student in the undergraduate program is $2,220 per semester. The new rate will be nearly $100 more. 

University officials say the tuition hike was needed since the school is expecting a jump in expenses like employee compensation and utilities. The school also is preparing for a decrease in state funding.

Actors Olmos, Trejo To Aid New Mexico Covid-19 Relief Fund - Associated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has recruited two Hollywood actors to help raise money for areas of Doña Ana County that were already struggling before the pandemic. 

Richardson's philanthropic foundation is partnering with The Las Cruces Sun-News to promote a relief fund, the newspaper reported this week. 

Richardson says he reached out to Edward James Olmos and Danny Trejo to see if they would join in the effort. 

The fund has already amassed $40,000. Olmos and Trejo say they have fond memories of filming in that part of the state.

The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico will process applications for those looking for assistance. The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico will manage the fund.

Navajo Leader Calls On Arizona Mayor To Be More Respectful Associated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation is calling on elected officials in towns that border the reservation to work with the tribe to combat the coronavirus.

Jonathan Nez made the comments in response to an online post by the mayor of Page, Arizona. Mayor Levi Tappan wrote online that he wished the tribe would put more resources into battling alcoholism.

Tappan has since apologized. While he understands alcoholism is a problem, Nez says Tappan's comments have far-reaching implications and urged him to be more respectful of the relationship between Navajos and the city of Page.

Tappan said he would meet with Nez later this week when Nez's administration distributes food, water and other supplies to Navajo communities near Page.

Treasury To Begin Distributing Virus Relief Money To Tribes - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The U.S. Treasury Department says it will begin distributing billions in coronavirus relief funding to tribes. The announcement Tuesday comes more than a week after a congressional deadline to get $8 billion to tribal governments.

Tribes sued to keep the funding from Alaska Native corporations, which own Native land but aren't tribal governments. The Treasury Department says tribes will receive a combined $4.8 billion based on population over the next several days and the rest will be doled out later.

Tribes are relying on the money to stay afloat, respond to the coronavirus and recover after shutting down casinos, tourism operations and other businesses.

Tribes Have Yet To Get Share Of $8B In Virus Relief Money - Associated Press

The U.S. Treasury Department has yet to send payments to tribal governments from a coronavirus relief package approved in late March. 

The agency says it hasn't determined how to allocate $8 billion in funding that was set aside for tribes. 

The agency says it will post details on its website, but nothing appeared as of Monday. 

The Treasury Department is being sued by tribes who are seeking to keep the money out of the hands of Alaska Native corporations. 

The tribes and the federal government disagree over the definition of "Indian Tribe" that was included in the relief package.

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Gets Moviemaker's Listing - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival has been named to MovieMaker's list of "50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2020." 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the festival recently received the honor for the seventh year. 

According to MovieMaker, film festivals have taken big financial hits for the greater good. 

The festivals that made the list were based on a rubric intended to highlight the festivals that provide the best possible return for moviemakers. 

MovieMaker Magazine is a leading resource for interviews, behind-the-scenes stories, movie recommendations, and festival coverage. 

The 2020 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival is scheduled for October 14 to 18.