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THURS: Grants Mayor Vows To Reopen City Despite Lockdown, + More

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West Theater in Grants, NM

New Mexico Mayor Vows To Reopen City Despite Lockdown Order - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

The mayor of the of Grants has announced that he will allow small businesses to reopen in defiance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's order that's keeping nonessential businesses closed.

Mayor Martin Hicks said Thursday he will allow the businesses to open their doors on Monday. He also says he'll use the city's police force to prevent State Police officers from issuing lockdown violation citations.

Lujan Grisham last month ordered nonessential businesses to close to stop the spread of COVID-19. New Mexico reported 169 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday. The state now has 2,379 cases and 78 people have died.

Hicks made the announcement after 81 businesses in Grants signed a petition calling for the reopening of the city that sits on historic Route 66, about an hour west of Albuquerque.

The governor announced Wednesday that she's putting together a bipartisan group of mayors who will work with her office on plans to reopen businesses across the state.

She said she would extend the public health order to May 15.

Hicks is a Democrat but compared the Democratic governor to the Nazis, saying he and business owners would “stop Lujan Grisham and her Gestapo.”

State To Reopen Medical Center To Treat COVID-19 PatientsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press, KUNM

The New Mexico Department of Health said a hospital within the grounds of Gibson Medical Center that was shuttered in 2007 is expected to reopen after the Albuquerque building was quickly retrofitted to treat patients with COVID-19.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed over the building to the state health department last weekend, making as many as 200 beds available.

State officials announced Thursday there were 169 additional positive cases of COVID-19, 105 of which were in McKinley and San Juan counties in northwest New Mexico. That state now has 2,379 cases.

There were also seven additional deaths, including a resident from the Life Care Center in Farmington. There are now 12 congregate living facilities with positive COVID-19 cases in residents and/or staff.

There are 123 people hospitalized and 78 people have died. The Albuquerque Journal reported Native Americans make up 44% of cases, even though they are only 11% of the state’s population.

U.S. Says Alaska Native Corporations Can Get Tribal Relief Funds - By Felicia Fonseca,  Associated Press

The U.S. Treasury Department says Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funding for tribes.

The department took the stance late Thursday, setting the stage for a court battle. More than a dozen tribes have sued the federal government to try to keep the money out of the hands of the corporations, including the Navajo Nation and Picuris Pueblo.

They contend it should go only to tribes that have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Treasury Department says a plain reading of the CARES Act makes the corporations eligible.

None of the funding for tribes has been distributed.

Self-Employed Can File For Unemployment BenefitsSanta Fe New Mexican

Starting Sunday, people who are self-employed and out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic can file for unemployment benefits with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports federal legislation created a new federal benefit under the CARES Act for those who previously could not access unemployment. But it has taken some time for New Mexico and other states to build the systems for processing the claims.

Workforce Solutions officials said applicants first have to file an unemployment claim to determine if they would covered by the traditional unemployment insurance program. But if they are ineligible they can file for benefits online under this new program.

State Lays Out Initial Criteria For Reopening StateAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday for the first time set out criteria that would allow for the state to gradually reopen its economy in phases as data showed social distancing has helped flatten the curve on coronavirus infections.

The Albuquerque Journal reported there were also six more deaths bringing the total to 71 and 139 new cases of COVID-19. That brings the total to 2,210.

But Human Services Secretary David Scrase said there are no longer projected shortages of  ICU beds and ventilators, although northwest New Mexico remains a hot spot. However, he also warned this is just one week of data and small changes in infection rates could change how the disease spreads. Older residents remain at high risk.

State officials said there must be several factors before there can be a return to a more open state. Those include declines in active coronavirus cases, more widespread testing and increased hospital capacity.

New Mexico Likely To Extend Public Health Orders Into May – Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday public health orders aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak will likely be extended to May 15 as the state looks to ramp up testing for COVID-19.

There are now 64 testing sites and the goal is to get a more complete picture of the virus' prevalence. While the state has yet to get the supplies needed for the additional testing, the governor said she has "a strategy" for doing that. She did not offer specifics.

The state has more than 2,200 cases, and 71 people have died. The cases have been centered in Bernalillo, McKinley, Sandoval and San Juan counties. In McKinley County alone, there were several dozen new cases reported Wednesday.

State Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties were beginning to flatten their curves. However, there were still concerns about the counties in the northwest.

Mental health and substance abuse programs also will be getting an infusion of funding as part of the U.S. government's relief efforts related to the outbreak. Members of the state's congressional delegation say a $2 million grant has been awarded to the Human Services Department to fund behavioral health services.

To increase access to behavioral health resources and support services, the state has launched NMConnect, a new app that provides free 24-hour crisis and non-crisis support.

Navajo Nation Now Has 1,282 Coronavirus Cases And 49 Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is extending the closure of its tribal government until mid-May because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

A previous executive order was set to expire Sunday. 

Tribal President Jonathan Nez says the tribe needs to remain vigilant. 

The coronavirus has hit the Navajo Nation that extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah harder than any other Native American reservation. The tribe has reported 1,282 positive COVID-19 cases and 49 known deaths as of Wednesday. 

Those figures don't include cases in towns that border the reservation and previously were included in the tribe's total. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the tribe, along with 10 others, announced Wednesday it has filed suit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury for its administration of federal coronavirus relief funds.

Airman Charged With Murder In Death Of Sunday School Teacher - Associated Press

Prosecutors have charged a U.S. Air Force airman with murder, kidnapping and theft in the death of a Sunday school teacher who had been living in New Mexico.

Mark Gooch was arrested Tuesday at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, where he was stationed.

The body of 27-year-old Sasha Krause was found in northern Arizona in late February with head injuries, and court records say a firearm was used to kill her. 

She had been living among other members of the Mennonite community in Farmington, New Mexico, for about 18 months before she disappeared Jan. 18. 

An attorney for Gooch declined to comment.  

Another Official In Rio Arriba County Facing Charges - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Another official in a New Mexico county where its sheriff is facing charges is in legal trouble. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the New Mexico Attorney General's office says former Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo made over $100,000 from three contracts with Española Public Schools without a proper business license. 

The office says Trujillo also never disclosed that he contributed to the campaigns of two school board members, which is a violation of governmental conduct laws. 

In addition, investigators say the 39-year-old Trujillo ran illegal school board meetings, even though he wasn't a member. 

He faces three counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of failing to disclose campaign contributions.

His attorney declined to comment.

New Mexico Land Office Approves Emergency Oil And Gas RuleAssociated Press

New Mexico's top land manager has approved an emergency rule that would allow oil and gas companies that lease state trust land to temporarily stop producing without penalty for at least thirty days.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard on Tuesday said longer-term relief will be coming through a rule change process already underway.

The shutting in of wells has been deemed necessary by the State Land Office based on plunging oil prices and storage capacity challenges, including the first-ever negative value of oil seen in the U.S.

Revenue from mineral development on state trust land benefits New Mexico public schools, hospitals and universities.

NMSU Regents Approve Tuition Hike Amid Budget Uncertainties Associated Press

Regents at New Mexico State University have approved an increase in tuition for the next school year.

University leaders said Tuesday the revenue that will come from the 3% increase will be needed to support additional student scholarships and because of continued uncertainty with the state's budget contribution for the coming year.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu said under any scenario, a tuition increase was going to be necessary given the financial effects of the dramatic drop in oil prices.

The tuition hike will apply to the main campus in Las Cruces, not NMSU's community colleges.

The state's budget relies heavily on the price of oil. Even with the tuition increase, the university still projects a deficit for the coming year.

New Mexico Regulators Concerned About Replacement Power Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Replacing a coal-fired power plant that has served customers in the American Southwest for decades won't be easy, and decisions made by New Mexico regulators will have ramifications for decades.

Members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission shared their concerns during a meeting Wednesday about the locations of the new generation stations and whether they'll be enough to offset taxes and other revenue that will be lost with the planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

The commission next week will make a final decision on whether to approve a pair of hybrid solar-battery storage units to replace part of the lost capacity.

Legislation adopted in 2019 that cleared the way for the closure of the San Juan power plant and mandated more renewable energy also included language to guarantee some replacement power sources would be located in the same area so local government entities could retain tax bases and bond ratings.

The hybrid solar-battery storage units would amount to about $430 million in investment, but neither would be located within the school district's boundaries. One would be on Jicarilla Apache tribal land and the other to the south in McKinley County.

The commission's hearing examiners reviewing the case have recommended approval, saying the state's new Energy Transition Act spells out the factors that must be considered and that the commission can still select other replacement options to directly benefit the area.

Damico, Retired UNM Beowulf Scholar, Dies From Covid-19 - Associated Press

Helen Damico, a retired University of New Mexico English professor who founded the school's Institute for Medieval Studies, has died from complications arising from COVID-19. 

The university said Tuesday she died April 14. She was 89. 

Damico taught courses in Old and Middle English at the university beginning in 1981 after completing her Ph.D. at New York University the year before. 

Damico was well known for her work on Old English and Old Norse literature, and above all, for her studies of Beowulf. In the late 1990s, Damico established another program around Viking mythology.

Search On For Possible Escaped Serval In New MexicoKRQE-TV, Associated Press

New Mexico officials are searching for a possible escaped exotic cat in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, suburb.

KRQE-TV reports New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says it's investigating reports of an escaped serval from a Rio Rancho home. People who live in the Enchanted Hill subdivision say they were on alert Monday night after the cat escaped.

Animal control reportedly captured a cat said to be a Savannah cat --- a cross between a serval and another breed. But it's unclear if it is the same cat officials sought. Game and Fish officials say they are still investigating. Possession of a serval is prohibited without a permit.