NM continues slight downward trend, reports 826 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths

New Mexico health officials reported Monday an additional 826 cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. 

Monday’s reported numbers seem to reflect a slight downward trend in cases and deaths, but also reflect a slight uptick in cases among inmates. Included in the latest reported cases were eight inmates held by the New Mexico Corrections Department. 

NM reports 1,077 new cases of COVID-19, an additional 16 deaths

State health officials reported Sunday 1,077 additional cases of COVID-19 and 16 more related deaths. The latest numbers bring New Mexico to 129,933 total cases and 2,171 deaths. 

The state Department of Health also reported on Sunday that there are 820 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 and 54,357 people have been deemed recovered. 

Bernalillo County had the most new cases on Sunday, according to New Mexico health officials. The latest reported cases also included 14 inmates held by the New Mexico Corrections Department.  The latest reported cases by county are below. 

278 new cases in Bernalillo County26 new cases in Chaves County19 new cases in Cibola County5 new cases in Colfax County12 new cases in Curry County119 new cases in Doña Ana County45 new cases in Eddy County10 new cases in Grant County5 new cases in Guadalupe County1 new case in Hidalgo County49 new cases in Lea County4 new cases in Lincoln County5 new cases in Los Alamos County12 new cases in Luna County79 new cases in McKinley County1 new case in Mora County10 new cases in Otero County2 new cases in Quay County24 new cases in Rio Arriba County6 new cases in Roosevelt County69 new cases in Sandoval County160 new cases in San Juan County16 new cases in San Miguel County43 new cases in Santa Fe County3 new cases in Sierra County2 new cases in Socorro County19 new cases in Taos County3 new cases in Torrance County1 new case in Union County35 new cases in Valencia County14 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County

Bernalillo County also had the most reported deaths on Sunday. Of the 16 most recently reported deaths was an inmate held by the state Corrections Department in Valencia County. The latest reported deaths, by county, are below. 

A female in her 60s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second female in her 60s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and was a resident of the Spanish Trails Rehabilitation Suites in Albuquerque.A male in his 50s from Bernalillo County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Chaves County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of Casa Maria Health Care Center in Roswell.A female in her 80s from Doña Ana County who had underlying conditions and was a resident Calibre Sagecrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Las Cruces.A male in his 60s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s from Otero County who was hospitalized.A female in her 80s from Sandoval County who was a resident of MorningStar Assisted Living & Memory Care of Rio Rancho.A male in his 80s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second male in his 80s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 40s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Santa Fe County who was hospitalized.A female in her 70s from Socorro County who was a resident of Good Samaritan Society Socorro facility.A female in her 80s from Valencia County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s in Valencia County who was an inmate at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County.

DOH: 1,442 new cases, 27 additional deaths

State officials reported Saturday 1,442 new cases of COVID-19 and 27 more deaths related to the disease. The latest cases of COVID-19 also include 11 inmates held by the New Mexico Corrections Department and one inmate in federal custody. In total, New Mexico has recorded 128,930 cases of COVID-19 and 2,155 deaths related to the disease. 

According to New Mexico health officials, 891 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 53,278 have been deemed recovered. 

Bernalillo County again accounted for the most new cases, significantly outpacing San Juan and McKinley Counties, which had the second and third most new cases, respectively. The latest cases, by county, are below. 

449 new cases in Bernalillo County2 new cases in Catron County63 new cases in Chaves County3 new cases in Cibola County15 new cases in Colfax County24 new cases in Curry County3 new cases in De Baca County87 new cases in Doña Ana County53 new cases in Eddy County23 new cases in Grant County9 new cases in Guadalupe County1 new case in Hidalgo County46 new cases in Lea County8 new cases in Lincoln County3 new cases in Los Alamos County15 new cases in Luna County106 new cases in McKinley County6 new cases in Mora County24 new cases in Otero County2 new cases in Quay County25 new cases in Rio Arriba County27 new cases in Roosevelt County90 new cases in Sandoval County175 new cases in San Juan County10 new cases in San Miguel County66 new cases in Santa Fe County6 new cases in Sierra County27 new cases in Socorro County16 new cases in Taos County6 new cases in Torrance County2 new cases in Union County38 new cases in Valencia County1 new case among individuals being held by federal agencies at the Otero County Prison Facility3 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County3 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County2 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County2 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County

Bernalillo County also reported the most deaths, according to state health officials. The latest reported deaths also included an inmate held by the state Corrections Department.

NM officials report 1,803 new cases of COVID-19, 24 more deaths

New Mexico health officials announced Saturday 1,803 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 more deaths related to the disease. Among the newly reported cases were 30 inmates held by the state Corrections Department. The state has now seen 118,358 total cases and 1,913 total deaths. 

Bernalillo County again leads the state in newly reported cases. The newly reported cases by county are below. 

573 new cases in Bernalillo County54 new cases in Chaves County18 new cases in Cibola County21 new cases in Colfax County27 new cases in Curry County98 new cases in Doña Ana County30 new cases in Eddy County7 new cases in Grant County8 new cases in Guadalupe County181 new cases in Lea County13 new cases in Lincoln County10 new cases in Los Alamos County8 new cases in Luna County96 new cases in McKinley County4 new cases in Mora County32 new cases in Otero County4 new cases in Quay County39 new cases in Rio Arriba County14 new cases in Roosevelt County135 new cases in Sandoval County179 new cases in San Juan County20 new cases in San Miguel County90 new cases in Santa Fe County10 new cases in Sierra County6 new cases in Socorro County12 new cases in Taos County7 new cases in Torrance County77 new cases in Valencia County2 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County23 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County2 new cases among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Springer Correctional Center in Colfax County

Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties had the most number of newly reported deaths in the state. Each county reported six more deaths.

NM Prison and Jail project launches, files first lawsuit against the state

A new, local non-profit organization aiming to advocate for the civil rights of those incarcerated in New Mexico launched Thursday and announced a lawsuit against the New Mexico Corrections Department. 

The New Mexico Prison and Jails Project announced that it filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the state Corrections Department of violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). 

Steven Robert Allen, formerly a policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, is the project’s director. He said the group’s first lawsuit stemmed from an inquiry to find out more about how the Corrections Department procedurally handles records requests. 

“I think it’s particularly ironic that we have this lawsuit against the Corrections Department for violating IPRA because all we were doing was asking them for their policies and practices for what they’re doing to comply with IPRA,” Allen said. 

Some of the group’s steering committee was present at a virtual news conference announcing the formation of the group and its first lawsuit. Albuquerque-based civil rights attorney Matthew Coyte is one of those steering committee members and said on Thursday that one of the goals of the project is to offer representation in civil rights cases where there is normally a dearth of available lawyers. 

“This project, the PJP, is designed to fill that gap, to fill that void and to create an an environment where we can bring multiple lawsuits against the prison or jail system to create change, to bring publicity,” Coyte said. 

The IPRA lawsuit the PJP filed this week argued that the response by the Department of Corrections to the project’s records requests “were so fundamentally inadequate and unreasonable that they are the equivalent of not responding to the [records request] at all.”

Coyte said getting adequate records from prisons and jails is key to making sure inmates and detainees are being treated fairly and properly. 

“I think everyone knows that prisons and jails are secretive places. The public doesn’t really have an awareness of what happens behind the closed doors of the prison and jail,” Coyte said. “And thus abuse is allowed to occur without great check or balance on things because the public eye isn’t there.”

The suit alleges that an attempt to obtain records regarding legal complaints filed against Corrections for violating IPRA as well as communications about IPRA policy changes, ended with deflections by department officials who cited various parts of statute and records law exemptions.

NM court rules DOH can limit medical cannabis reciprocity through rules

A state district court judge ruled Thursday that the New Mexico Department of Health is allowed to limit who can become a reciprocal medical cannabis patient through department rules. 

First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson said that his previous order to stop the department from proceeding with an emergency rule change regarding reciprocity did not prohibit the department from adopting rules regarding reciprocity in general. 

 “The writ does not say that the requirements for reciprocal participation imposed by the emergency rule and the mandate were incompatible with the [state law] or go beyond the Department of Health’s rulemaking authority,” Wilson said during the hearing on Thursday. “The writ does not forbid the creation or promulgation of a regulation through normal rulemaking process the court did not conclude the emergency rule conflicted with the act.”

The New Mexico Legislature approved medical cannabis patient reciprocity in 2019 as part of a larger overhaul to the state’s medical cannabis program. Last summer the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, overseen by the Department of Health, finalized rules for reciprocity, allowing medical cannabis patients from other states and jurisdictions to purchase and consume their medicine in New Mexico. By September, the Medical Cannabis Program notified New Mexico Dispensaries of an emergency rule change that would require reciprocal patients to provide a matching medical cannabis authorization and identification card. The program also said reciprocal patients could not be a New Mexico resident, which meant New Mexico residents could not use a medical cannabis authorization from another state with looser restrictions.

NM auditor finds ‘red flags’ in MLK Jr. Commission finances

A state commission that is tasked with promoting the values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continually failed to rectify financial improprieties and inconsistencies, according to the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor. 

State Auditor Brian Colón sent a letter on Monday to New Mexico Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Executive Director Leonard Waites and commission members with concerns about how the commission has handled its internal financial affairs. Colón wrote that since 2016, when Waites became executive director, Colón’s office has found “numerous findings of material weaknesses and material non-compliance” in the commission’s audit reports and that the issues were not resolved and persisted in the following years. 

“Within the fiscal year 2015 and 2016 audits, the Commission’s response to each finding presented included, ‘This occurred under previous management and the current Executive Director has put procedures in place that should resolve this finding during the fiscal year 2017 audit,’” Colón wrote. “Executive Director Waites has been in the Executive Director position since August 2016, and the issues remain the same.”

In an interview with NM Political Report, Colón said his office found “red flags” in the commission’s audit reports that include purchase orders made after the date of corresponding invoices and invoices that were not properly documented. 

“These are really, really red flags,” Colón said. “ And they’re not necessarily red flags for embezzlement, but they’re red flags for failure of paying attention to the financial order of the house.”

Waites did not respond to a request for comment, but he told the Albuquerque Journal that he was surprised by Colón’s claims. 

Colón said the commission spends roughly a quarter of a million dollars of money allocated by the state annually, but that the issue is more than a dollar amount. 

“Before you talk about that number, though, you have to talk about a principled approach to oversight,” Colón said. “And for me, it’s not the size of the transaction, it’s not the size of the agency.

NM argues against compensating businesses impacted by emergency public health orders

The state of New Mexico, through the state Attorney General’s Office, filed a brief on Monday with the New Mexico Supreme Court that argued the emergency public health orders do not warrant compensation to business owners. 

The brief is the latest in a pending state Supreme Court case spurred by a request from state Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office in October. Balderas’ office asked the high court to answer the question of whether ordering a business to shut down as part of an emergency public health order constitutes taking that business, or eminent domain. 

Since this past summer, there have been a dozen state district court cases filed by local business owners, arguing that those owners are due compensation from the state. Balderas’ office asked the state Supreme Court to weigh-in on the matter to save time and resources in those district court cases. 

The high court agreed to take on the case and asked for briefs and responses from both the state and the group of business owners who are currently suing the state. 

In the brief filed on Monday, Balderas’ office argued that the state’s Public Health Emergency Response Act only allows for compensation of medical supply companies or medical providers that would be hypothetically taken over by the state during a public health emergency. Even if the law allowed for compensation, Balderas’ office argued, it would make it nearly impossible for the state to take action during an emergency. “This specter of liability would hobble the State’s ability to take emergency action — whether destroying a burning building or prohibiting activity known to spread a pandemic — that is necessary to protect health and safety,” the brief read. 

The brief also argued that ordering businesses to close temporarily should not be hindered by second thoughts or concerns that the state may be liable for lost revenue.  

“The State should not be hamstrung in its efforts to respond to emergencies and stop activities that endanger the public by the prospect of liability,” the Attorney General’s office wrote.

Pearce reelected as NM GOP chairman

Steve Pearce was reelected as the Republican Party of New Mexico state chair Monday night. Pearce was one of four people running, including Albuquerque conservative radio personality and station owner Eddy Aragon. 

The party said that Pearce won by 29 votes, though an earlier tally—which the party said was incomplete because of an error by the vendor—showed Pearce won by just one vote. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve again,” Pearce said in a statement after the vote. “We have accomplished a great deal, but there’s more work to be done. I am very excited to get our Party more unified, to expand its footprint in New Mexico and to make our Party even more inclusive and diverse.

Fewer New Mexicans than estimated will qualify for one-time unemployment check

Debates among New Mexico lawmakers over the best way to use federal relief funds is likely far from over. Last week, the state’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) learned that the estimated number of New Mexicans to receive a one time bump in their unemployment benefits will likely be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 fewer than expected. 

During the second special legislative session this year, which took place during the week of Thanksgiving, lawmakers passed a COVID-19 relief bill, allowing the state to use additional federal funds from the CARES Act. 

Part of the package that state lawmakers passed allocated $194 million to the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions in order to add a one time supplemental payment of $1,200 to those who qualify for unemployment benefits. Workforce Solutions originally estimated that 140,000 people would qualify for that extra payment. But according to an LFC activity report sent to committee members last week, the department now estimates that 110,000 to 140,000 will qualify for the payment.  

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said his department based the original estimation on how many people qualified for unemployment benefits in June.   

“We were saying, ‘Okay, if we have X amount of people get in that match where we were at our height, what would that be? And let’s make sure we have that amount in there,” McCamley said.