All posts by newmexicovibe

Coronavirus testing begins in New Mexico

While there are no reported cases of coronavirus in the state, New Mexico Department of Health officials said testing has begun.
State health department officials said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shipped roughly 15,000 coronavirus test kits nationwide, including to New Mexico, and each kit can test 700-800 samples.
KOAT’s health expert said now is the time for prevention, not panic.
“Every patient who comes to a clinic or an emergency room, if there’s a question about a coronavirus infection, should be tested,” Dr. Barry Ramo said.
Ramo said testing is crucial because coronavirus and the flu share a number of symptoms.
“The symptoms are basically very similar. You get fever, chills, a cough,” Ramo said.
But it’s what makes coronavirus and the flu different that is potentially the most dangerous.
“Fifty percent of the population gets a flu vaccine. Unfortunately with this particular virus, no one has any natural immunity,” Ramo said.
While state health officials are not saying how many people they’ve tested, they did say they’ve been monitoring 30 people in New Mexico who recently traveled to China and none of them has shown any symptoms.
But Ramo said someone’s travel history is no longer the only factor to consider.
“Now we’re seeing cases where there was no connection to China, so it’s important to recognize that this can be endemic in a community without ever having someone who was known to be in the epicenter of the epidemic,” he said.
He said good hygiene can keep both coronavirus and the flu from spreading and that’s what people should be concerned about right now.
“I think the most important thing is that people should not panic and they should get a flu shot because that’s still the real danger,” he said.
Ramo said both coronavirus and the flu pose a greater danger to people over 65 and those who suffer from chronic illnesses.
State health department officials said fewer than 500 Americans nationwide have required testing for coronavirus. Full Credits KOAT Albuquerque.

Portion of replacement border wall complete in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said it completed about half of a 66-mile portion of a new border wall system in southern New Mexico that is replacing vehicle barriers and other blockades already in place.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that agency spokesman Roger Maier said about 30 miles of the 18-to-30-foot tall bollard wall is completed.

Maier says another 36 miles of the project through Dona Ana and Luna counties is expected to be completed in the coming months.

He says future work includes a combination of construction in place of existing barriers, and in locations where no barriers currently exist. Full credits Associated Press

Lab in New Mexico could begin testing for new virus

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Health officials in New Mexico send off samples from people suspected of having the new coronavirus to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the state epidemiologist said an Albuquerque lab is expected to soon begin conducting the tests.
New Mexico has no cases of the deadly virus that originated from China, also known as COVID-19.
State Epidemiologist Michael Landen expects the state to soon begin its own testing, meaning doctors will be able to send samples to the lab in Albuquerque instead of a federal lab, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Wednesday.
It is unclear when the lab would open.
Currently, doctors call the state Health Department to determine if testing is needed for anyone who complains about or experiences symptoms and has recently returned from China. If given approval, the tests are conducted and results are sent off to federal health officials.
“They (patients) would have to be sick. They would have to be in a higher-risk category,” Landen said.
If an outbreak in the state occurs, testing would expand to allow health care providers to order tests at commercial labs, Landen said.
World health officials fear the virus could become a pandemic with more than three dozen countries reporting at least one case of the disease.
The global count of those sickened by the virus stands at about 82,000, with 433 new cases reported Thursday in China and another 505 in South Korea. Full credits Associated Press

New Mexico governor says sheriffs unwilling to enforce new red-flag gun law should resign

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a red-flag gun bill Tuesday that will allow state district courts to order the temporary surrender of firearms, and she urged sheriffs to resign if they still refuse to enforce it.

Flanked by advocates for stricter gun control and supportive law enforcement officials at a signing ceremony, Lujan Grisham said the legislation provides law enforcement authorities with an urgently needed tool to deter deadly violence by temporarily removing firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Some sheriffs from mostly rural areas opposed the bill in committee hearings as a violation of constitutional guarantees to due process, free speech and the right to bear arms. Public rallies were held for and against the legislation.

Lujan Grisham said sheriffs should have the opportunity to oppose any proposed policy change, but “they cannot not enforce.”
“If they really intend to do that, they should resign as a law enforcement officer and leader in that community,” she said.

New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace of Cibola County said the new law goes too far by potentially impounding guns before any crime is committed and that he and other sheriffs will assert their discretion over its enforcement.

“We don’t work for the governor, we don’t work for the Legislature,” he said. “We work for the people that elected us into office.”

New Mexico lawmakers last year expanded background check requirements to most private gun sales and banned firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.

Highlighting discontent in rural communities, elected commissioners declared Roosevelt County a “sanctuary” for Second Amendment guarantees on Tuesday, recognizing the right of the local sheriff “not to enforce any unconstitutional firearms law against any citizens.” The county of roughly 20,000 residents adjacent to Texas is the latest of at least a dozen New Mexico counties to embrace the sanctuary label.

This year’s red-flag legislation allows police and sheriffs’ deputies to petition a court for the surrender of household firearms within 48 hours from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others. Full Credits CBS News

Medical marijuana rules change for New Mexico visitors

SANTA FE — New Mexico has stopped issuing medical marijuana enrollment cards to people who live outside the state but will soon allow nonresident patients enrolled in other state programs to buy pot.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday reinstated a residency requirement for participation in the state’s medical cannabis program by signing a measure passed by lawmakers. Marijuana is only legal for medical use in New Mexico.
At least 613 people who don’t live in the state have enrolled in the medical pot program since the residency requirement was dropped last year. State health officials say that change was inadvertent and invited problems with U.S. authorities by potentially diverting marijuana outside a regulated system.
New Mexico will begin recognizing medical marijuana enrollment cards from other states starting on July 1, under a reciprocity rule recently signed by Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel.
Medical marijuana program director Dominick Zurlo says the new rule will allow dispensaries to recognize cards from all states that have legalized medical pot, including neighboring Texas, where medical pot is limited to low concentrations of the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, THC.
Zurlo noted that it’s still illegal to transport medical marijuana across state lines and that the goal of recognizing out-of-state cards is to allow patients to access cannabis just like other medications.
Residency requirements were restored Thursday based on an emergency clause and a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate, Kunkel said on the sidelines of a news conference at the close of the legislative session.
Medical cannabis company Ultra Health had gone to court to try to keep enrollment in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program open to nonresidents. A district court ruled in the company’s favor before the law was changed this week. Full Credits Las Cruces Sun News

New Mexico soldier killed in non-combat incident in Africa

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico Army National Guard soldier from Mountainair, who served as a police officer and volunteer firefighter in the town, died Thursday from a non-combat related incident while deployed in Africa, according to the Department of Defense.
A news release states Pfc. Walter Lewark, 26, died at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti where he was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in the Horn of Africa.
The DOD does not elaborate on how Lewark died, but the release said they are investigating the incident. Full credits ABQ Journal.

Report: New Mexico refinery emitting high levels of chemical

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An oil refinery in southeast New Mexico is one of 10 facilities in the country releasing high levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, a report said.
The Holly Frontier Navajo oil refinery in Artesia is emitting benzene levels four times the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.
Refineries with chemical levels above the federal action level are not violating federal law, but must take action to reduce the pollution, officials said.
“These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy organization for environmental regulations.
More than 3,000 people live within a mile of the refinery, officials said.
“Businesses are located directly across the road from the fenceline, and Roselawn Elementary School is located just 0.2 miles directly west of the highest reading monitor,” the report said.
Benzene is found in crude oil and used to manufacture plastics and pesticides, officials said. Full credits Associated Press.

28-year-old soldier from Las Cruces dies in Afghanistan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A solider from Las Cruces, New Mexico died in Afghanistan Saturday.
Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, 28, was wounded during Operation Freedom Sentinel in Nangarhar Province.
Rodriguez, who was born in Las Cruces and graduated from Mayfield High School, enlisted in the Army in 2009.
He deployed eight times with the 75th Ranger Regiment and twice with 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
“Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was selfless and served honorably; he was certainly among the best in our unit,” said Col. John W. Sannes, 7th Special Forces Group Commander. “Here at the Red Empire, we take care of our own, and Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez’ family will forever be a part of us, we will assist them in any way we can to help them through these trying times.
Rodriguez was posthumously promoted to Sgt. 1st class from Staff Sgt and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. Copyright 2020 – KOB-TV LLC, A Hubbard Broadcasting Company.

New Mexico prosecutors review secretive state settlements

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State and local prosecutors are reviewing the results of a special audit about secretive financial settlements under the past administration of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez that were used to resolve human rights complaints and other legal claims against public officials.
State Auditor Brian Colón told a Senate committee that his agency forwarded audit documents for possible criminal investigation to the office of the state attorney general and Santa Fe-based district attorney’s office, as well as the newly founded State Ethics Commission that handles noncriminal complaints.
A special audit from Colón’s office of 18 past settlements arranged by the state’s risk management division and contract attorneys found that two-thirds of the payouts lacked sufficient documentation or investigations. Some settlements were sealed until Martinez left office at the end of 2018 and appeared to be protecting the former Republican governor’s political legacy, Colón says.
Matt Baca, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the matter is actively under review. Santa Fe-based District Attorney Marco Serna could not immediately confirm the referral.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said that the fledgling agency — authorized by voters in 2018 — does not have jurisdiction over government conduct that occurred before July 1, 2019. The seven-member commission holds its first public meeting Friday.
Contacted Tuesday, Martinez said she was never involved in any state settlement agreements made by the state risk management division.
“I was unaware,” she said. “I was not involved in any throughout my eight years (in office). It is a separate entity for which it would have been inappropriate for me to be involved.”
She declined to discuss the settlement process further or comment on calls for reforms.
Legislators are considering a bill from Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque that would eliminate a state mandated 180-day delay in the publication of state settlements and require that future administrations continue the new practice of publishing settlements to the state’s online information clearinghouse.
Among $2.7 million in settlements flagged for irregularities, the state has acknowledged it previously paid $900,000 to three State Police officials. That payment resolved a lawsuit alleging discriminatory, lewd behavior and retaliation by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, who has said he urged the administration to investigate claims further.
“We identified the confidentiality provisions intended to completely circumvent the process,” Colón, a Democrat, told a panel of legislators. “That may or may not constitute criminal behavior but was a clear abuse of power.”
A separate internal audit of settlement procedures has turned up procurement violations during the final six months of the Martinez administration as lawsuits against state officials were assigned to outside defense attorneys whose contracts with the state had expired, according to General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz. His agency’s risk management division provides legal defense to state officials.
Ortiz, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, says 24 cases were assigned to legal firms without valid contracts in the July-September 2018 period for legal fees in excess of $100,000.
Ortiz said changes have been made so that all state settlement agreements are now accompanied by a “litigation risk analysis” that provides an overview of accusations, explores potential jury awards and provides a recommended settlement value. Settlements above $200,000 require cabinet-level authorization, he said.
Democratic state Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe pressed for details about which officials authorized settlements in the final months of the Martinez administration, and wondered aloud whether taxpayer funds might be restored.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test to say the least,” he said. “Is there any option for the taxpayer to recuperate those amounts?” Full Credits Associated Press