WED: State Tightens Restrictions Again As COVID Cases Hit New Daily Record, + More

Nov 18, 2020

New Mexico Tightens Restrictions, Virus Cases Hit New High - Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico officials are reporting that daily confirmed positive COVID-19 cases have swelled to a record 2,897 cases.
They also reported Wednesday an additional 26 deaths.
Following a set of restrictions rolled out Monday in an attempt to "reset" the state's fight against the virus, the governor is issuing additional tightening on the definitions of essential businesses.

Big box stores must do at least a third of their business selling essential goods like food or offering essential services like vehicle repair in order to allow customers inside stores.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging all businesses to move to curbside sales as much as possible.
Just after 4:30 p.m., cellphones around the state buzzed and dinged with an emergency alert reading "Shelter in place except for emergency needs. EXTREME virus risk."
That means stores like Ross Dress for Less, which mostly sells clothes but occasionally sells food, will have to serve customers curbside or through delivery only.
It's unclear if stores like Target and Walmart, which sell groceries, or REI, an outdoor retailer that has a bike shop, might be deemed essential and allowed to remain open under the new rules without seeing a breakdown of their sales.

Medicaid Enrollment, Spending Soars In New Mexico Amid Virus Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Spending on federally subsidized Medicaid health care across New Mexico has surged to an all-time high as the coronavirus pandemic throws more people of all ages into poverty. An independent evaluation announced Wednesday of the state's flagship managed care program for Medicaid insurance finds that enrollment is surging to new heights. More than 52,000 people were added to the state's Centennial Care program serving most Medicaid patients in New Mexico, which has 2.1 million residents. It's the largest surge in enrollment since New Mexico expanded Medicaid in 2014 to include more people on the cusp of poverty under the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, use of medical services under the program has decreased since the start of the pandemic in March. That could spur the state to try to recover some costs from managed care organizations over the next two years, though state officials at the Human Services Department say their cost recovery options are limited.
Costs of the state's principal Medicaid program are expected to climb to $5.8 billion during the current fiscal year that started in July 2020 and ends next June, up from $5.2 billion during the previous fiscal year.
Those expenses are largely underwritten by the federal government, though New Mexico's general fund is likely to pay out $1 billion.

Trump Pushes New Environmental Rollbacks On Way Out The Door -  Matthew Brown and Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press

Down to its final weeks, the Trump administration is working to push through dozens of rollbacks that could weaken century-old protections for migratory birds, expand Arctic drilling and hamstring future regulation of public health threats.
The pending last-minute changes that benefit oil and gas and other industries deepen the challenges for President-elect Joe Biden, who made restoring and advancing protections for the environment, climate and public health a core piece of his campaign.
Asked about the last-minute push, an Environmental Protection Administration spokesman says the agency is continuing to advance its regulatory agenda.
Many of the final rollbacks still pending under the Trump administration have significant implications for oil and gas companies.
A proposal that arrived at the White House last week would set emissions standards for small but dangerous particles of pollution emitted by refineries and other industrial sources.
Other changes would allow more drilling and mining on thousands of square miles of public lands around New Mexico's Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and deep in the Alaska wilderness.

Catholic Bishop Says He'll Comply With Vatican Inquiry Associated Press

A California-based Roman Catholic bishop confirmed Wednesday that he is under investigation by the Vatican for his handling of abuse and misconduct cases in his former diocese in the Las Cruces area of southern New Mexico.
In an online statement, Bishop Oscar Cantú confirmed a report from the Catholic News Agency about an investigation and said he planned to cooperate fully with any inquiry.
Cantú served as bishop of Diocese of Las Cruces from 2013 through 2018, before his appointment as bishop in San Jose, California.
The disclosure comes amid public discussions by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of a report detailing how clerics failed to hold to account ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for many years after suspicions surfaced of serial sexual misconduct.

New Mexico Wary Of Oil Downturn As Agencies Trim Budgets - Associated Press

State legislators are keeping a wary eye on trends in oil prices and production as the number of active drilling rigs and new wells has plummeted from pre-pandemic levels, threatening a crucial source of state income amid the coronavirus pandemic. A report from the budget and accountability office of the Legislature found that drilling for new petroleum wells in New Mexico’s share of the Permian Basin declined precipitously. Spending cuts are proposed next year at a variety of state agencies to help conserve financial resources. New Mexico's governor says she wants to call a special legislative session to provide new economic relief to the unemployed and hard-hit businesses.

Republicans Shake Up State Senate Leadership In New Mexico  - Associated Press

A new leader has emerged atop the Republican minority contingent in the New Mexico state Senate. Sen. Gregory Baca of Belen was chosen as Republican minority leader during a caucus meeting on Tuesday. The leadership slot previously was held by Sen, Stuart Ingle of Portales. Democrats successfully defended Senate and House majorities in the general election. Political jockeying is underway for the Senate president leadership position that wields influence over committee assignments. Baca is an attorney and war veteran who represents a district spanning most of Valencia County, the Native American community of Isleta Pueblo and portions of Bernalillo County.

Amid Virus Outbreak, New Mexico Addresses School Enrollment - Associated Press

New Mexico has hit a new high in virus deaths and infections. State officials reported 28 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday and over 2,000 new confirmed cases. Meanwhile, education officials are working to locate 12,000 students who have disappeared from public school rolls and haven't said why they left. Schools in New Mexico are funded based on the number of students they have on the 40th day of the school year, so the emerging exodus could result in a drop in school funding. The Public Education Department is trying to track down those 12,000 students and enroll them if possible.

State Seeks Funding For 28 More Electric Vehicles Associated Press
New Mexico would add 28 electric vehicles to its fleet for state agencies under a budget request to legislators from the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Adding the electric vehicles would cost about $1 million under a request from the General Services Department.
Agency Secretary Ken Ortiz on Tuesday urged a panel of legislators to include the spending in draft legislation. He says the transportation sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
In New Mexico the oil and natural gas sector generates the most greenhouse gases, while at the national level transportation is the largest emitter.
General Services is nearing completion of 30 charging stations at state campuses in Santa Fe as it modernizes the state motor pool and reduces carbon emissions.
Ortiz described progress on an energy-efficiency project at 30 buildings in Santa Fe. Solar electricity generating equipment has been added at 16 buildings so far, with work soon to begin on three large solar carports.
The completed project is expected to reap savings of $1.1 million on electricity costs, the General Services Department said in a statement.
This story has been corrected to say that in New Mexico the oil and natural gas sector generates the most greenhouse gases, while at the national level transportation is the largest emitter followed closely by electricity generation.

New Mexico Ski Resorts Will Delay Opening Amid Pandemic - Associated Press

Multiple ski resorts have delayed opening in response to state-mandated COVID-19 lockdown orders that went into effect on Monday. The regulations by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are expected to continue through Nov. 30. Ski Santa Fe and Taos Ski Valley were originally scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day. Ski Santa Fe General Manager Ben Abruzzo says the resort now plans to open as soon as it can. Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort would have become the first ski resort in the state to open its doors on Friday. Marketing Manager Christiana Hudson says staff are now preparing to increase safety measures.