WED: COVID-19 Transmission Rates Improving, Medicaid Enrollment Rises During Pandemic, + More

May 20, 2020

COVID-19 Cases Rise To 6,317 With 7 Additional DeathsAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday the number of positive COVID-19 cases in New Mexico is now 6,317 with 7 additional deaths.

State officials announced 134 additional positive tests and there are now 283 people who have died. The Albuquerque Journal reported more than half of those deaths, 171, have occurred in McKinley and San Juan counties in northwest New Mexico, which have large Native American populations.

State health data shows Native Americans make up more than 58% of COVID-19 cases in the state despite making up just 11% of the population.

The rate of transmission is down overall, but the governor said people should continue staying home and wearing masks in public to help cases decrease further.

Lujan Grisham said there is a target date of June 1 for reopening businesses such as dine-in restaurants and gyms, but that depends on New Mexicans helping reduce the spread of the virus.

She also highlighted the risk of crossborder travel, especially around El Paso, Texas. She says cases and deaths are rising in El Paso and that poses a threat to neighboring Doña Ana County.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase also highlighted an increase in the rate of spread of coronavirus in southeastern New Mexico, which he attributed to travel to and from West Texas.

The governor said there will be a special session of the Legislature starting June 18 to address the looming deficit for the next fiscal year.

Amazon, Walmart Can Sell Groceries To Food-Stamp RecipientsAssociated Press

State health authorities are making it possible for New Mexico residents to spend food stamp benefits to purchase food online and reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission associated with local shopping trips.

The Human Services Department announced Wednesday in a news release that money from the federally subsidized Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can be used for online food purchases at Walmart and Amazon using electronic benefit transfer cards.

Human Services Department Deputy Secretary Angela Medrano said in a statement that online purchases mean that more New Mexico resident can stay home and help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the state's application for online purchasing authorization earlier this month.

Trump Administration Cuts Royalty Rates For Oil And Gas - By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

The Trump administration has started giving energy companies temporary breaks on royalties they must pay for oil and gas extracted from federal lands because of the coronavirus pandemic, government data shows.

The move is drawing criticism as a corporate handout that will mean less money for states that get a share of the money.

Administration officials say the breaks are being granted only for companies that can show lower royalties are necessary for them to continue extracting fuel from public leases.

Royalty rate cuts so far have been authorized for at least 76 energy leases in Utah. More reductions, including in other states, are in the works.

Other states with federal oil and gas leases that generate significant amounts of royalties include New Mexico, Wyoming, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Alaska and Montana.

New Mexico's Medicaid Enrollment Rises During Pandemic - Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico health insurance regulators say statewide enrollment in Medicaid is on the rise as businesses shed workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

State regulators said Tuesday that Medicaid enrollment increased by roughly 8,650 people in April over the previous month. 

Colin Baillio of the insurance superintendent's office says the state can expect to see more people shifting from employer-based health insurance to the federally subsidized plan for residents living in poverty or on the cusp, as unemployment swells. 

The state's Workforce Solutions Department was providing unemployment benefits to roughly 117,000 New Mexico residents as of last week, up from about 10,000 early this year. 

That could signal an eventual exodus from employer-based health plans.

New Mexico Hospital To Pay $98K To Settle Retaliation ClaimAssociated Press

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says a northern New Mexico hospital will pay $98,000 to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the agency.

The case against Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe was filed on behalf of an employee who claimed a supervisor subjected her to a hostile work environment because she is deaf.

The lawsuit accused the hospital of failing to provide reasonable accommodations for Asheley Coriz and firing her because of her disability and complaints she made about her supervisor's conduct.

The settlement includes back pay and damages. 

The decree also enjoins Christus St. Vincent from engaging in disability discrimination and retaliation and requires hospital officials to revise their equal employment opportunity and reasonable accommodation policies.

New Mexico Governor Rejects Call To Lift Virus Restrictions – Associated 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 six more deaths. The total number of cases is now 6,096 and 276 people have died.

Four of the six 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.

Experts: Data, Flexibility Key In Crafting Methane Rules - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico regulators say they've started crafting rules aimed at cracking down on methane emissions by the oil and gas industry and expect to make public a draft later this summer. 

The rules will be the culmination of a dozen meetings, hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and experts in the industry. 

Officials with the state environment and energy departments said during a meeting Tuesday that the goal will be striking a balance between reducing pollution and giving the industry the flexibility it needs to operate efficiently. 

Industry officials and regulators agreed there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

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 Casinos Remain Closed Amid COVID-19 PandemicAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation's casinos in New Mexico and Arizona are staying closed until at least next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision is in line with the tribe's partial government closure and stay-at-home order that expires June 7. The tribe has three casinos in New Mexico near Farmington, Shiprock and Gallup, and one in Arizona east of Flagstaff.

The casinos have been closed since mid-March. Casino officials say employees still are receiving paychecks and have access to mental health and other services.

A large Navajo Nation farm in northwestern New Mexico also says it will keep an on-site store open with reduced hours. 

As of Tuesday, the Navajo Nation reported 4,153 cases of the coronavirus and 144 deaths. Navajo President Jonathan Nez has said the tribe is among the hardest-hit areas in the U.S., due partly to a higher percentage of residents being tested.


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.

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 buildings, 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.

'Cowboys For Trump' Leader Chided For 'Dead Democrat' Remark - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Cowboys for Trump founder and a New Mexico county commissioner is facing criticism after he said in a video "the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat." 

A video posted online Tuesday shows Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin saying he wants Democrats to die politically, not physically, because the party is anti-American and opposed to President Donald Trump.

Democratic Party of New Mexico chairwoman Marg Elliston said in a statement Griffin's comments had no place in the state's political discourse and called for him to resign. 

Griffin said he would not resign because he felt he did nothing wrong and was only speaking his mind.

GOP Senate Hopeful In Ad Blasts Foe For Anti-Trump Remarks - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A Republican U.S. Senate hopeful in New Mexico is blasting one of her opponents in an ad over his previous critical comments about President Donald Trump. 

Elisa Martinez released Tuesday a new commercial that attacks former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti saying at a climate change event last year that he was a Republican "until the orange one," referring to the president. 

The Martinez ad comes after Rochetti released his own set of commercials with uplifting messages and promises that America's best days "are ahead of us." 

In his commercials, Ronchetti said he supports Trump's policies around China and the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Ronchetti campaign manager Jeff Glassburner dismissed the Martinez ad and said it came from a candidate trying to distract voters from her own problems.

Glassburner was referring to Martinez's support for the Koch network-funded Libre Institute, which advocates for immigration reform.

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.