WED: Three Medical Practices Close In Belen After Virus Exposure, +More

Aug 19, 2020

Virus Exposure Closes 3 Central New Mexico Medical PracticesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A central New Mexico family that has three medical practices has closed its offices due to coronavirus exposure, and two members of the family are recovering from symptoms of the virus.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Dr. Roland Sanchez, who has a family practice in Belen, New Mexico, and his wife, Elia, have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. A statement from the family didn't provide details of their condition.

Family spokesman Tom Garrity says with two exceptions, the family members who have tested positive are asymptomatic.

Along with Sanchez's medical practice, those of his sons, Dr. Roland Sanchez II, who owns Conquistador Dental, and Dr. Florian Sanchez, owner of Yucca Veterinary Medical Center, closed their respective offices on Aug. 10. According to voice recordings at each office, all three planned on reopening this week.

On Wednesday, state health officials reported an additional 174 cases to bring the total since the pandemic began to 23,749.

Six deaths were also reported Wednesday, including a woman in her 30s in Bernalillo County and a man in his 40s in McKinley County. Both had underlying conditions.

The number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 is now 729.

Governor Hopes For K-5 Return To Classrooms After Labor Day – Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expressing hope that most elementary school students will be able to return to classrooms after Labor Day under a hybrid mode, citing declining statewide rates of coronavirus infection.

 In a live video interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday,  Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is "crushing it" when it comes to meeting the state's criteria for reopening the economy.

She expressed hope that K-5 classrooms can reopen just after Labor Day to rotating pods of students who also study remotely from home.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, touted the state's "smart, slow, prudent" approach to economic recovery during interviews ahead of a speech Wednesday evening in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for the Democratic National Convention.

She blamed the federal government for missed opportunities to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Native American communities, without mentioning President Donald Trump.

The state is under a stay-at-home health order that mandates masks in public, bans public gatherings of more than four people, prohibits indoor dining at restaurants and requires two weeks of self-isolation for many travelers who enter or return from out-of-state.

Today state health officials reported an additional 174 cases to bring the total since the pandemic began to 23,749.

Six deaths were also reported Wednesday, including a woman in her 30s in Bernalillo County and a man in his 40s in McKinley County. Both had underlying conditions.

The number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 is now 729.

Suspect ID'd In Slaying Of Albuquerque Woman Outside HomeAssociated Press

Federal and local authorities have identified a man suspected of killing an Albuquerque woman outside of her home in November — a killing that garnered national attention last month after President Donald Trump invited her widowed husband to the White House.

The Albuquerque Journal reports authorities have focused on Luis Talamantes, a purported member of the Juaritos Maravilla street gang and an immigrant suspected of being in the country illegally.

He has been held in Texas since Jan. 21 on federal charges of illegal re-entry, the newspaper reported. But Talamantes has not been charged in the death of Colombian-immigrant Jacqueline Vigil.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier said Wednesday a suspect, who they did not identify, was charged Wednesday with federal firearms charges. He was identified by Albuquerque police homicide detectives in Vigil's death.

Both said the suspect was identified and arrested as a result of homicide detectives' work long before Operation Legend and the U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson got involved.

Operation Legend is the name of the Trump Administration operation that is sending federal agents to targeted cities to fight crime.

It was not known if Talamantes had an attorney.

City Of Las Cruces Agrees To Pay $6M In Wrongful Death SuitAssociated Press

A New Mexico city has agreed to pay a family more than $6 million in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the choking death of a Latino man in February.

The Las Cruces Sun News reported Wednesday that the city of Las Cruces reached the agreement July 17 and would pay the family of Antonio Valenzuela, who died at the hands of a former police officer.

Police say then-Officer Christopher Smelser applied the chokehold after Valenzuela fled during a traffic stop. Smelser was later fired and faces a murder charge.

His attorney Amy L. Orlando previously said the charge was a political move meant to grab headlines.

Court Filing Targets New Mexico's Energy Transition Law - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Environmentalists have lined up behind the shift to renewable energy required by New Mexico's energy transition act.

But some are challenging language in the law that they say derails due process and eliminates standards of regulatory review meant to protect customers.

New Energy Economy and Citizens for Fair Rates and the Environment filed their brief this week with the state Supreme Court. Legal wrangling has been ongoing since the state adopted the landmark legislation in 2019.

Aside from mandating more renewable energy, the law includes a financing mechanism that supporters say is necessary for the 2022 closure of a major coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico.

The law allows Public Service Co. of New Mexico and other owners of the San Juan Generating Station to recover investments in the plant by selling bonds that will be paid off by utility customers.

The bonds will raise roughly $360 million to fund decommissioning costs, severance packages for displaced workers and job training programs.

Navajo Man On Federal Death Row Seeks Stay Of Execution – Associated Press

The only Native American on federal death row is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to put his execution on hold while he seeks review of a lower court decision over potential racial bias in his case.

It's rare but not unheard of for the high court to grant a stay. Legal volleying in other recent federal executions has delayed the inmates' deaths by hours.

Lezmond Mitchell's execution is scheduled Aug. 26 at the federal prison in Indiana where he's being held.

The Navajo man was convicted in the 2001 killings of Alyce Slim and her granddaughter during a carjacking on the Navajo reservation.

Southeastern New Mexico Principal Indicted In Fraud CaseHobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico school principal has been charged in a fraud case linked to his previous role as a superintendent.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Lovington Sixth Grade Academy principal Steve Barron was indicted last month in connection with an investigation into spending at Dora Schools.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office says Barron was involved in a scheme with a cleaning company. He is charged with making or permitting false public vouchers.

Defense attorney Daniel R. Lindsey says Barron is innocent and was never arrested. Two others were charged in connection to the alleged embezzlement.

New Mexico Planning For COVID-19 Vaccine DistributionAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Top New Mexico health officials say it's too early to say whether a COVID-19 vaccine — once available — will be mandatory for certain people in the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expects there to be a population for whom the vaccine will be required, noting that health care workers, educators, nursing home residents and emergency responders could be among that population.

The governor's administration has authority under a 2003 state law to issue vaccine orders during a declared public health emergency. The Journal reported that those who decline a vaccine for reasons of health, religion or conscience can be ordered to isolate or self-quarantine under the same law.

The governor's office did not say whether the Lujan Grisham administration would invoke that law once a coronavirus vaccine is available.

It also will depend on availability. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to have a vaccine ready by early next year.

New Mexico Daily COVID-19 Cases Stay Below 100 - KUNM, Associated Press

New Mexico has marked another day of declining COVID-19 case counts. State health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 79 confirmed cases, bringing the state's total to 23,579 since the pandemic began. 

The latest cases include 20 from Bernalillo County and 12 from Lea County. 

Officials also reported an additional five deaths related to the virus Tuesday, bringing the state death toll to 723. 

State officials have been pressing for residents to stay home and avoid gatherings in order to keep the numbers low.

Navajo Nation Reports 17 New COVID-19 Cases, 4 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 17 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. 

That brings the total number of people infected to 9,486 and the known death toll to 484 as of Tuesday. 

Navajo Department of Health officials said 89,399 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 6,987 have recovered.  

The Navajo Nation lifted its stay-at-home order last Sunday, but is encouraging residents to leave their homes only for emergencies or essential activities.  

Much of the Navajo Nation has been closed since March as the coronavirus swept through the reservation that extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.  

$1B In Revenue Expected From New Mexico's State Trust Lands - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico land managers say the state is on track to have another banner year as a result of oil and gas drilling and other activities on state trust lands.

The State Land Office announced Tuesday that revenue for the recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, is expected to top $1 billion. Officials say back-to-back billion-dollar years are breaking revenue records despite a decline in oil prices and economic uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

While the agency saw a 5% decrease in oil and gas royalty payments, it reported more than $885,000 — or a 118% increase — in revenue from wind energy projects and lease payments.

It also reported a nearly 60% increase in revenue from right-of-way easement payments, totaling $39 million.

Livestock grazing leases, permits and other fees also are part of the mix, with the money benefiting public schools and other institutions.

But officials warned that based on unpredictable prices and a decrease in production, the 2021 fiscal year is expected to have a different outcome and the agency plans to prioritize renewable energy projects, economic development opportunities and outdoor recreation partnerships as a way to diversify revenues from state trust lands.

The State Land Office earlier this year adopted a new rule to allow for oil producers to temporarily shut-in wells until prices stabilize. Companies that seek such permission are asked to pay an annual shut-in royalty payment in lieu of royalties on what is produced.

Previously, there was a penalty for shutting in a well, resulting in the potential to lose leases.

High-Altitude Airships Company Picks New Mexico For Base - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A technology company aiming to send up high-altitude airships to monitor crops and bring broadband has chosen New Mexico for its U.S. production center.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced Tuesday the Switzerland-based Sceye picked the state as its U.S. base for stratospheric flights for earth observation and communication.

The company founded by global humanitarian Mikkel Vestergaard is expected to create 140 high-paying manufacturing and engineering jobs.

Sceye is negotiating a deal to provide better broadband access to the Navajo Nation and other underserved areas in the state. 

The airships are controlled by pilots on the ground who move them as weather and the Earth's atmosphere changes.

Sceye was founded in 2014. In recent years, the company has conducted research and development of its technology at Roswell and Moriarty, New Mexico, airports.

Last year, the state gave the company a $2 million loan to help it to rebuild following a windstorm that caused extensive damage to its hangar and airship.

Washington, Pennsylvania Lead Lawsuits Over Postal Changes - By Gene Johnson, Associated Press

The attorneys general of Washington and Pennsylvania say they are leading states that are suing to block service changes at the U.S. Postal Service.

They made the announcement Tuesday as the U.S. postmaster general announced the reversal of some postal service changes amid a national outcry. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro are both Democrats.

Ferguson filed his lawsuit in U.S. court in the Eastern District of Washington President Donald Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the postal service. A dozen other states signed on, including New Mexico.

In filing the lawsuit, they cited policy changes that included limiting worker overtime and late or extra shifts. They say the postmaster general ignored rules requiring the postal service to follow procedures before making changes that affect national service.