‘Zoom bombs’ create a concern for distance learning in NM

For the past several weeks, people all over the country have flocked to online meeting platforms in an attempt to stay connected with both friends and coworkers amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in a number of mandatory shelter in place orders. 

But as more people use virtual meeting platforms like Google or Zoom, there are reports of increased malicious activity, which is now known to some as “Zoom-bombing.” Meetings around the country have reportedly been interrupted with unknown users who use racist language or share pornographic material. 

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission experienced its first “Zoom bomb” on Wednesday when, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, an unknown individual used offensive language before a loud mix of talking and noises led to an abrupt end to the meeting. 

NM cannabis business group forgoes largest sale day of the year

For some cannabis users, this month is significant. For decades, the number 420 has been aligned with cannabis use. Even before medical cannabis was legalized in New Mexico, April 20 served as an unofficial day for cannabis users to celebrate. This year however, the whole month is 4/20. 

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a medical cannabis industry group in New Mexico is urging patients and producers to cancel events related to the once-in-a-century occasion. 

The New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which represents 15 medical cannabis producers and manufacturers, is now urging patients to forgo any public 420 celebrations and urging dispensaries to postpone any promotions until later this year. The group is also urging all dispensaries to continue to serve patients through alternative ways. 

Ben Lewinger, the director of the Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said all of the group’s members, which also includes cannabis-adjacent businesses, agreed that keeping people home as much as possible is best.     

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Udall: NM set to get financial relief, another bill likely on its way

Thanks to a $2 trillion congressional relief package, New Mexico will start seeing financial support from the federal government for businesses impacted by COVID-19. And U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the state’s delegation, said he will make sure the money goes where it’s needed. 

Udall, who flew from Washington D.C. to New Mexico last week, spoke with NM Political Report during his self-quarantine at his home in Santa Fe. The quarantine, Udall said, was in accordance with an order from the New Mexico Department of Health that all travelers coming into the state self-quarantine for two weeks. 

Udall said the latest support bill, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump, will help New Mexico businesses, hospitals and tribal groups. But, he said, the state and the country will probably need more. 

“This bill shouldn’t be the end of our work,” Udall said. “We will know soon what other holes we need to fill, but I think we will need more help for state and local governments whose budgets are being hit and with the price of oil today at $20, New Mexico’s state budget is going to be hit badly by that.

NM school districts prepare for new plans for the last weeks of school

Many parents across New Mexico will start this week with questions and concerns about their children’s education after the state’s Public Education Department last week announced schools will be closed through May. But to keep students engaged and to justify not making up missed weeks of school, PED has asked all school districts to submit an educational plan. A looming special legislative session to balance the state’s books, a large number of rural school districts in the state and cash-strapped schools adds to the uncertainty of student access and expectations. But the agency said parents should not panic about access to computers or not being able to take on the role of a teacher. 

PED spokeswoman Nancy Martira told NM Political Report that the agency is fully aware of the many challenges families are faced with. 

“We are asking educators to keep in mind that many families have limited data, minimal access to the Internet, and one device which must be shared between multiple people,” Martira said. She said PED does not expect parents to sit with their children for eight hours a day.

NM reports 29 new cases of COVID-19

New Mexico officials announced Sunday an additional 29 positive COVID-19 cases. That number brings the state’s total to 237. 

Update (3/30): DOH: Two more deaths related to COVID-19; 44 new positive cases

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the break-down of the new 29 positive cases are as follows:

9 new cases in Bernalillo County1 new case in Chaves County2 new cases in Curry County1 new case in Eddy County4 new cases in McKinley County4 new cases in San Juan County3 new cases in Sandoval County4 new cases in Santa Fe County1 new case in Valencia County

The state did not report any new deaths related to COVID-19. There have been two reported cases of COVID-19-related deaths since the state first started reporting positive cases earlier this month. 

Here is the current breakdown of the 237 positive test cases in New Mexico, including the cases reported on Sunday. 

Bernalillo County: 101Chaves County: 8Cibola County: 2Curry County: 3Doña Ana County: 17Eddy County: 4Lea County: 2McKinley County: 9Rio Arriba County: 2Roosevelt County: 1Sandoval County: 18San Juan County: 22San Miguel County: 1Santa Fe County: 34​​Socorro County: 2Taos County: 9Valencia County: 2

There are currently 22 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico, according to state officials, but that number could include people who are hospitalized here, but who tested positive in another state. Likewise, the number does not account for New Mexicans who may have been hospitalized out of state. 

The state also announced there are 26 people who have reported to DOH that they have recovered from COVID-19. 

Through Sunday’s report, the state has processed 11,006 COVID-19 tests. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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CYFD part of ‘groundbreaking’ collaborative settlement

New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department along with the state’s Human Services Department settled in federal court last week with a group of plaintiffs that include children in foster care. The suit alleged that the state’s foster program was severely lacking in services and resources. 

Both CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock and the plaintiff’s legal team are touting the settlement agreement as the first of its kind as it incorporates changes to the system through a collaborative effort. 

Kathryn Eidmann, with national pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is part of the plaintiff’s legal team. Eidmann called the collaborative settlement agreement “groundbreaking and the first of its kind in the nation.”

“[The agreement] centers the impact that trauma has on young people in the foster system and designs a system that is trauma responsive at every stage and every step of the process,” Eidmann said. “That truly does make New Mexico a national leader and a national model that other reformers in this area can look to as they think about reforming their own system to better meet the needs of children in care.”

The settlement stipulates a time table and benchmarks for changes to the state’s foster care program. For example, by the end of this year, the state will ensure no children are housed in hotels or state offices.

NM public defender staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender announced Tuesday that it closed its Santa Fe office after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to a press release from the LOPD, the staff member had limited contact with other lawyers or clients, partially because of visitor restrictions at the Santa Fe detention center, Santa Fe’s district court and LOPD’s own office closures. About two weeks ago, the LOPD closed all of its physical offices, opting to conduct business only by phone or video conferencing. 

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur, in a statement, said the employee will stay at home and that the LOPD will continue to limit person-to-person interaction. 

“We’re thankful our employee is able to quarantine at home at this time,” Baur said. “We will continue to be proactive with measures to protect the health of our employees, our colleagues in the justice system, and our clients.”

The LOPD was one of the first institutions in the state’s criminal justice system to close their offices and call on the state Supreme Court to significantly increase restrictions. State courts were eventually ordered by the high court to postpone all new jury trials, limit the number of people in courtrooms and conduct all business over the phone or by video, except in emergency situations. 

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ABQ mayor asks city to work together to slow spread of COVID-19

Tuesday morning, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller asked city residents to work together, both in spirit and financially, to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

Keller said since Albuquerque is the “urban core” of New Mexico, emergency orders and restrictions may diverge from what the state puts in place. 

“We might have to do things longer than the rest of the state or we might have to do things more intensely,” Keller said. “But right now we are in step with the state.”

Following the state’s public health emergency orders and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most recent “stay at home” instruction means much of Albuquerque is shut down, Keller said. 

Keller encouraged residents who can, to consider donating money to the city’s effort to house those who experience homelessness through hotel vouchers and to help purchase basic necessities for vulnerable residents. Keller also stressed the importance of people staying home when possible due to Albuquerque being the metropolitan center of the state. 

“We’re where all the hospitals are, we’re where the highest density is,” Keller said. “That makes us by far and away, the highest risk for anywhere in New Mexico.”

Keller said all golf courses in the city will be closed, along with many community centers — with the exception of those that are providing childcare or meals. City buildings are closed to the public and administrative hearings will be cancelled or held through video conferencing. 

By this weekend, Keller said, regular weekday city bus service hours will be drastically reduced to what would normally be a Saturday schedule.

NM deems medical cannabis essential during COVID-19 restrictions

As New Mexicans brace themselves for an unknown period of restricted over the counter medicine purchases due to the growing number of positive COVID-19 tests, the state’s Department of Health said medical cannabis patients can rest assured that their access to medicine won’t be interrupted. 

In a letter to medical cannabis producers, patients and other stakeholders, Medical Cannabis Program Director Dr. Dominick Zurlo said medical cannabis Licensed Non Profit Producers (LNPP) qualify as essential services under Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel’s latest emergency health order. 

“Accordingly, LNPPs are not required to limit operations pursuant to that order,” Zurlo wrote. Medical cannabis patient cards that are set to expire between March 11 and June 13 will get a 90 day extension, according to Zurlo. He also encouraged patients to use telemedicine to consult with a medical professional for new patient and card renewal recommendations. Anticipating a possible staffing shortage for producers, Zurlo said the department is also “temporarily suspending” criminal background checks for new employees until producers send in their relicensing applications, which are due in June. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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A balance between liberty and safety during a pandemic

Current state restrictions, and more looming, due to the emergence of COVID-19 in New Mexico raises the question for some people: Is this legal? Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared an emergency earlier this month, she has ordered purchasing restrictions, limited group gatherings and ordered restaurants to limit service to take-out only. 

While at least one New Mexico scholar and the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union agree that the governor’s actions can be justified, an Albuquerque attorney does not and has said he is working towards challenging the order in court. 

Matthew Simpson, who teaches political theory at the University of New Mexico, said there’s a balance in U.S. government between public safety and personal freedoms, and in times of crisis, safety usually wins.  

“The measures that might be best for promoting people’s well being isn’t really compatible with maximizing their liberties and so government officials have to try to balance those two and have to weigh them against each other,” Simpson said. “I think at the end of the day protection of life has to take precedence, and usually does take precedence, over the protections of liberty, just because you can’t have liberty if you’re not alive.”

Simpson added that even though New Mexicans are currently restricted from physically gathering in groups of more than ten, their right to assemble is arguably not being violated. “The government isn’t saying you can’t talk to people about your common concerns, they’re just saying you can’t engage in these behaviors that are going to be vectors for this deadly disease,” Simpson said. 

But that doesn’t mean putting public safety above rights always works out, he said. The Supreme Court sided with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when faced with whether U.S. Japanese internment camps during World War II violated personal rights. 

“I think with the benefit of hindsight, almost everybody thinks that that was just a fundamental violation of rights,” Simpson said.