WED: Officials Do Not Foresee Vaccine Shortage As Some Healthcare Workers Decline Shots, + More

Jan 20, 2021

Official Says New Mexico Doesn't Expect To Run Out Of Vaccine - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials say they don't expect to run out of coronavirus vaccine.

Health Department spokesman Matt Bieber said Wednesday that the state orders the maximum number of doses it can and its orders are typically filled.

Nearly 200,000 doses already have been delivered to the state, and more than three-quarters of those have been administered. That puts New Mexico among the top states when it comes to distribution rates.

The state continues to have one of the fastest distribution times in the U.S. It has administered nearly 153,000 shots so far. More than 471,000 New Mexicans have registered for the vaccine.

While health care workers were given first priority, officials with some of the largest hospitals in New Mexico say between 20% and 30% of their medical staff have declined a shot. They couldn't pinpoint exact reasons since taking the vaccine is optional, but noted that some may be waiting to see how it affects people.

State health officials said they expect that hesitancy to decline over time.

Some governors complained last week about the federal government's allocation of doses, and it's unclear how soon President Joe Biden's administration is expected to make changes to the nation's approach when it comes to distribution.

About 70% to 75% of health workers at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe have been vaccinated. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gonzales said during a briefing Tuesday that side effects were minimal for the first group so more staffers started signing up.

About 80% of health care workers within the University of New Mexico Hospital system in Albuquerque have been vaccinated, officials said.

Under New Mexico's distribution plan, the vaccine is now going to those who are 75 or older as well as people with medical conditions that put them at risk. Those who work in certain front-line essential businesses also are part of the current phase.

The state's death toll surpassed 3,000 on Wednesday as an additional 34 fatalities related to complications stemming from the virus were reported.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico have topped 165,800. More than 880 additional cases were reported Wednesday.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and some people can be infected without showing symptoms.

New Mexico College Teams Finally Returning Home - By John Marshall AP Sports Writer

Teams from the two largest New Mexico universities have finally gotten clearance to return home after starting their seasons on the road.

An amendment to COVID-19 guidelines will allow teams from the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State to start practicing in their home state again, though they still can't play home games.

The basketball teams from the two universities started their seasons on the road due to strict coronavirus measures at home.

New Mexico's football team played a seven-game season in Nevada.

The tight restrictions in New Mexico forced the biggest athletic moneymakers at the state's two largest universities to take drastic steps.

New Mexico's football team moved to Henderson, Nevada, and completed a seven-game season this fall. The men's and women's basketball teams relocated to the Texas Panhandle.

New Mexico State's two basketball programs moved to Arizona. The men have had eight games canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 issues and paused all team activities on Jan. 4 due to multiple positive tests within their program. The women's team also had to pause all activity due to a positive test last weekend.

New Mexico Zoo Sends Endangered Wolf Pack To Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A New Mexico zoo has sent a pair of endangered Mexican gray wolves and their seven pups to Mexico as part of conservation efforts in that country.

Officials at the zoo in Albuquerque said Tuesday that the pack of predators was sent south last week and will eventually be released into the wild after they learn to hunt and survive on their own.

The zoo has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for decades on Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts. Several wolves born at the zoo have been released into the wild over the years, but officials say this marks its first international pack release.

Officials said the pack was selected for release in part because it has shown to be a strong family.

More Mexican wolves are in the wild now than at any time since they were nearly exterminated decades ago. At least 163 wolves were counted during last year's survey in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, marking a nearly 25% jump in the population from the previous year. There are an estimated 30 wolves in the wild in Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental.

Work is underway on this year's survey, with results expected in the coming weeks.

A subspecies of the Western gray wolf, Mexican wolves have faced a difficult road to recovery that has been complicated by politics and conflicts with livestock. The challenges have been mounting: Ranchers and rural residents say the situation has become untenable as 2019 marked a record year for livestock kills. In the first nine months of 2020, 140 kills were confirmed.

Federal and state wildlife managers have established several food caches in Arizona and New Mexico as a way to keep the wolves from preying on cattle. They also have logged several dozen efforts to scare away wolves to try to prevent more conflicts.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also is in the process of rewriting rules that govern management of the wolves due to a legal challenge by environmentalists. A federal judge has ordered the new rules to be finalized by May 21.

Forecasters Say Rain, Snow On Tap For Drought-Weary Southwest - Associated Press

Forecasters say the drought-stricken Southwest can expect some relief from off-and-on wet weather the rest of this week and into next, with rain expected in lower elevations and snow in higher terrain.

The AccuWeather forecasting service said the next round of rain moving through the Southwest through Thursday is likely to be heavier than the quarter of an inch that many areas got Tuesday.

National Weather Service forecasters in Flagstaff in northern Arizona said stronger and colder storms will produce widespread rain and snow this weekend and early next week. Forecasters said increased precipitation is on tap Thursday and again this weekend and early next week.

The weather service said light showers over New Mexico's southwestern mountains and south-central mountains would be followed by increased precipitation Thursday and again this weekend and early next week.

The weather service said mountains near Las Vegas, New Mexico, received over a foot of snow late Tuesday and early Wednesday, and Prescott National Forest officials reported that rain Tuesday in north-central Arizona helped contain a wildfire.

How Education Funding Could Change In New Mexico - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

The New Mexico Legislature is expected to increase near-term education funding and pursue long-term reforms that will change how schools are funded.

Education accounts for about half of the approximately $7 billion in general funds that lawmakers will haggle over during the 60-day legislative session that started Tuesday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative researchers have recommended increases in education funding to overcome learning losses and enrollment declines caused by the pandemic.

Lawsuits targeting the state's school funding formula also are creating legal pressure for spending increases.

Democratic majority leaders in the House and Senate say emergency funds are needed to pay for personal protective equipment and vaccine distribution. Teachers across the state started receiving vaccines this month.

It is unclear if legislators on either side of the aisle will use the power of the purse to pressure the governor to allow schools to open more quickly.

A coalition of school districts has sued, saying they have the authority to regulate reopenings, while child care has been a headache throughout the year for parents trying to work.

With the vast majority of students learning remotely since March, the pandemic has laid bare longstanding inequalities in education funding that could lead to long-term changes that start with this legislative session.

Recent polling by education advocates has bolstered confidence by Democratic lawmakers that the public is more supportive of major funding overhauls, like increasing withdrawals from the state's $20 billion endowment.

A proposed resolution that calls for amending the state constitution to allow for a 1% increase in distributions from the fund could mean millions more in education funding every year. The measure has been introduced regularly over the past decade but has repeatedly failed to gain enough support.

If passed this time, it would be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.

The focus on education will likely bleed into related areas, such as the rural state's straggling broadband internet infrastructure. The lack of adequate access and bandwidth has been exacerbated by the demands of remote learning.

New Mexico Lawmakers Look For Solutions To Hobbled Economy - By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers confronted daunting challenges as they began a 60-day session Tuesday amid an unrelenting coronavirus pandemic and concerns of violence at a Statehouse guarded by troops and encircled by fencing, barricades and mobile security cameras.

Proposals aimed at reviving the economy and rebooting classroom learning are at the top of the agenda for lawmakers in the Democratic-led Legislature. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is pushing for a budget deal that would increase state spending on pandemic relief, education and health care.

Democrats also have drafted lightning-rod initiatives that would allow broad marijuana sales, shore up abortion rights and reform police oversight.

Leading House Republicans said their priority will be proposals that allow students to return to classrooms immediately by providing greater autonomy to school boards, teachers and families.

Most schools are providing remote learning only, with some small in-person lessons for younger students and special education students.

The House came into session with calls in English and Spanish of "present on the floor" and "presente." Most Democrats tuned in via videoconference from their offices and most Republicans stood on the House floor.

In the Senate, legislators in face masks exchanged elbow bumps and sat down between Plexiglas barriers meant to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. The rotunda and hallways of the Legislature — ordinarily buzzing with lobbyists, school groups and jewelry vendors — were eerily empty and quiet.

Outside, there were no indications of protests amid warnings from federal authorities of possible insurrection attempts at statehouses.

Direct federal aid to state government in 2020 helped bolster New Mexico's finances. The state has general fund reserves of roughly $2.5 billion, or about 34% of annual spending obligations.

Republican House leaders were the first to propose the aid to front-line workers, but they are vowing to fight major Democratic initiatives on taxes, abortion rights, medically assisted suicide and policing reforms.

For major policy reforms, all eyes are on the Senate and a new vanguard of progressive Democrats who campaigned on efforts to tap more education money from the state's $20 billion permanent fund.

Native American legislators ascended to top committee posts in the Senate, with the appointment of Shannon Pinto of the Navajo Nation as chairwoman of a committee for Indian, rural and cultural affairs and Bennie Shendo of the Jemez Pueblo as chairman of a committee on tax, business and transportation policy.

The Senate's lead budget-writing committee will be led by Democratic Sen. George Munoz, a construction contractor from the trading post city of Gallup on the edge of the Navajo Nation that has been besieged by coronavirus infections.

A proposal to tap more money for education from a state trust will get a fair hearing, he said Tuesday.

About 20% of lawmakers are new to their position. Democrats hold a 45-25 majority in the House and 27-15 in the Senate.

Jailed Cowboys For Trump Leader Urged To Quit County OfficeAssociated Press

A New Mexico county official who runs the group Cowboys for Trump and was arrested in connection with the riot at the U.S. Capitol is facing calls to resign.

Otero County Commissioners Gerald Matherly and Vickie Marquardt demanded in a statement Tuesday that fellow district commissioner Couy Griffin step down immediately.

They say his arrest Sunday by the FBI is a culmination of an endless series of investigations and lawsuits stemming from his promotion of Cowboys for Trump.

He did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.

According to court documents, Griffin told investigators that he was "caught up" in the crowd, which pushed its way through the barricades and entered the restricted area of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. But he said he never entered the building and instead remained on the U.S. Capitol steps.

A video posted to Griffin's personal Facebook page shows Griffin in the restricted areas, according to the affidavit.

During an Otero County Board of Commissioners meeting last Thursday, Griffin said he planned to travel with firearms to Washington, D.C., for Biden's inauguration.

Matherly and Marquardt say they will join a recall effort and the New Mexico attorney general's lawsuit to remove him from office if he doesn't resign.

Officials Urge Precautions As Virus Hospitalizations Decline - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Officials with New Mexico's largest health care providers say a recent decrease in statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations is not enough to ease up on mask wearing or other measures aimed at curbing spread.

Hospital administrators provided an update during a briefing Tuesday.

The number of people hospitalized in New Mexico due to the virus was just over 640 on Tuesday, slightly higher than the day before but still one of the lowest levels in months.

But the hospital officials described the decrease as more of a plateau, saying modeling suggests they could continue to see increases through February.

New Mexico has confirmed nearly 165,000 infections since the pandemic began.

In northwestern New Mexico, officials said coronavirus-related hospitalizations have not let up. Hospitals elsewhere remain at capacity with patients who need care for other medical emergencies.

CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe has seen somewhat of a decrease in patients in its specialized COVID-19 unit. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gonzales said that has allowed the hospital to open up parts of that unit to serve other patients.

Another challenge has been balancing demands on the health care workforce, which is dealing with COVID-19 duty, a seasonal surge of other illnesses and the need to ramp up vaccination efforts.

Traveling nurses are still being used and some employees are working overtime to help with vaccinations, said Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, the chief patient safety officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services.

Presbyterian and other providers are coordinating with state health officials to set up large vaccine distribution sites now that New Mexico has expanded eligibility for the shots. For example, a vaccine clinic is ramping up at the University of New Mexico's arena in Albuquerque, also known as The Pit.

Hospitals usually receive their vaccine allocations at the beginning of the week with little advance notice of exactly how many doses they will be getting. Gonzales said that makes planning difficult.

Still, New Mexico has among one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., having administered more than 143,000 doses so far.

New Mexico has confirmed nearly 165,000 COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began while deaths are approaching the 3,000 mark. That includes a Dona Ana County woman in her 30s who was among the 20 additional deaths reported Tuesday.

Spread rates also are still far above New Mexico's targets for reopening, and public health mandates are expected to remain in place for many months for the state's most populated areas.

Navajo Nation Reports 45 New COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

Officials on the Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 45 new COVID-19 cases, but no deaths. 

The latest figures released bring the total reported coronavirus cases on the reservation to 26,517 with 922 known deaths. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that while people are getting vaccinated, it's crucial to keep in mind that another variant of the virus has been found in nearby regions. 

Nez says residents still need to remain vigilant and practice health safety measures like staying home.

Residents of the vast reservation are still under a stay-at-home order Friday through Monday morning. 

On Tuesday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 75 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Jan. 1-14.

New Mexico Lawmakers To Consider Prescribed Fire Measure - Associated Press

New Mexico's energy and natural resources agency is putting its support behind legislation that it says would clear the way for more prescribed fires as the state deals with climate change. 

The measure would clarify liability for private landowners who conduct prescribed burns. 

Officials with the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department say that would make it easier and more affordable for landowners to get insurance. 

They say similar legislation in other states has resulted in increased prescribed burning. 

Officials pointed to a fire last summer in the mountains near Santa Fe, saying a prescribed burn in the area the previous year kept the fire from expanding into the ski basin and provided a barrier that firefighters used to better fight the flames.

If the legislation is passed, state officials said New Mexico would join nearly two dozen other states that have implemented prescribed burning laws or policies.

Tribal Leaders Blast Congressman Opposed To Biden Nomination – Associated Press

A group of Native American tribes in a Minnesota congressman's district is rebuking him for his attempts to derail President-elect Joe Biden's pick for Interior secretary.

If confirmed, Rep. Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, would be the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior.

Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, a member of the House's subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples, has been asking fellow lawmakers to join him in urging Biden's transition team to withdraw Haaland's nomination.

In a letter seeking support, Stauber cites Haaland's opposition to policies that he says would place a moratorium on mining in northern Minnesota.

A letter dated Jan. 14 and signed by leaders of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe accuses Stauber of bowing to big industrial interests at their expense.

The Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which represents 35 tribal nations in the region, also wrote to Stauber, calling the lawmaker's campaign against Haaland "offensive, "hostile" and "irresponsible."

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, serves with Stauber on the House Natural Resources Committee. If confirmed, she would lead a department with broad oversight over tribal lands in the U.S.

Teeter-Totters At U.S.-Mexico Border Win UK Design Prize - By Danica Kirka, Associated Press

A collection of teeter-totters that briefly allowed children on both sides of the US-Mexico border wall to play together has won a prize from London's Design Museum.

The three hot-pink seesaws were installed through the slats of the wall, with one seat in Sunland Park, New Mexico, near El Paso, Texas, and the other in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The artwork was put up on July 28, 2019, and removed from the politically charged border barrier after less than an hour.

Teeter-Totter Wall was designed by California architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello with help from Colectivo Chopeke, an artists' collective in Juarez.

The Design Museum named the project Tuesday as the overall winner of the Beazley Designs of the Year competition for 2020, which considered 74 projects by designers from around the world.

"It encouraged new ways of human connection and struck a chord that continues to resonate far beyond El Paso in the USA and Juarez in Mexico,'' museum director Tim Marlow said in announcing the prize. "It remains an inventive and poignant reminder of how human beings can transcend the forces that seek to divide us."

The teeter-totters were installed amid the heated debate over U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

"We thought this would be a moment to show to the world a very important reality of the border, which is that the border isn't a desolate place where no one lives," Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, told a university publication in 2019. "This is a world where women live and children live and that we can use play as a kind of vehicle for activism."