Vaccines, masks required in the Roundhouse during upcoming legislative sessions

The upcoming legislative special session for redistricting and next year’s regular legislative session will be open to the public—but they must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter and wear masks while in the Roundhouse. That’s according to the Legislative Council Service, which announced the changes on Tuesday. “Given the high number of COVID-19 cases across the state and the strain this continues to put on state resources, it is incumbent on us to protect everyone in the Capitol complex while conducting the state’s business,” Legislative Council Director Raúl Burciaga said in a statement. “I believe the measures being taken for the special and regular sessions will allow for the work to get done while greatly minimizing the risk for COVID spread.”

This currently would not apply to legislators, NM Political Report confirmed. The 2021 legislative session took place behind closed doors because of the threat of COVID-19, with some members participating remotely.

Keller wins reelection; stadium bond fails

A record number of voters cast ballots in Albuquerque, and chose to reelect Tim Keller as mayor for a second term. Keller won in a three-way race with over 55 percent of the vote with 71 or 72 vote centers reporting. 

Keller easily outdistanced both of his opponents, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and conservative radio host Eddy Aragon. 

If no candidate had reached 50 percent, there would have been a runoff election between the top two candidates. Keller said in his victory speech that the results showed voters cared about “leadership in tough times.”

“There is no doubt, these are some of the toughest times Albuquerque has been through,” Keller said. “Four years ago, you trusted me to move our city in the right direction, and now, I’m asking you to trust me to see that vision through. We may not always agree, but today we affirmed our mutual commitment that I will push us forward and lift up our city for future generations.”

Keller received 55.82 percent of the vote with 72 of 72 vote centers reporting, while Gonzales received 25.56 percent and Aragon received 18.38 percent.

Voters head to the polls for local elections

Voters throughout the state will go to the polls on Tuesday in local elections. The two biggest elections, in terms of voters, are those in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Both elections will feature incumbent mayors seeking a second term. In Albuquerque, incumbent Mayor Tim Keller faces two opponents, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and conservative radio host Eddy Aragon. The two public polls in the race show Keller with large leads in the three way race.

State crosses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths

State health officials announced on Monday that New Mexico reached 5,000 COVID-19 related deaths. The news on Monday came as the state announced 15 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, for a total of 5,002 COVID-19 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March of last year. “These aren’t just numbers – they are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and we grieve for them and their families,” New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. 

According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, New Mexico has the 20th-highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita, with 238 per 100,000 residents. The state’s latest mortality update, from last week, showed that over 2,200 deaths were among those 75 or older, nearly 1,200 among those 65-74 and over 1,200 among those 45-64. The mortality update, along with other epidemiological reports, are usually released in the middle of the week.

State supreme court sets date for arguments on pandemic aid case

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over who has the authority to distribute federal pandemic aid funds in November. The case, which will have oral arguments on Nov. 17, is brought by legislators who say the governor’s veto of language that directed the use of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid is illegal and that the Legislature should have the authority to direct where the money goes. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, filed the petition in September. 

At the time, the two said the governor’s action was unconstitutional. The Lujan Grisham administration said that previous state supreme court precedent allowed the governor to direct federal funds. “The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message regarding the funds. 

When asked about the dispute when State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, said he believed the money should be handled by the Legislature, a spokeswoman for the governor said she believed the Legislature had the authority to dispense state, not federal funds.

State sees fewer COVID-19 cases as Delta surge wanes

The state’s current surge of COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant, appears to be slowing down in recent weeks, top health officials said in a press conference on Wednesday. Hospitalizations are still at a very high rate, with 375 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said they are still going through a “crunch of volume”—but will likely avoid the need to implement crisis standards of care if hospitalizations follow falling COVID-19 totals. One large reason why is the increasing number of vaccinations. As of Wednesday, the state reported that 79 percent of all New Mexicans 18 or older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 69.2 percent had completed their vaccination series (either with both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine). And among those 12-17, 62.5 percent had received at least one dose and 51.6 percent were fully vaccinated.

State issues warnings on ivermectin use

The state warned residents about the dangers of using ivermectin without a prescription and that there is no medical proof that it helps treat COVID-19. In a press conference earlier this week, acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said he was told that there was one death related to an overdose of ivermectin. There have been nationwide reports of people using ivermectin, including those for veterinary use, in an attempt to ward off COVID-19 or treat the symptoms of COVID-19. Scrase called the belief in the use of ivermectin to treat the disease a “cult following.”

“The animal products are very, very concentrated. You don’t have to be a veterinarian, or a physician to know that the dose you might give a horse for a parasite infection would be much larger than what you’d give a human being.”

Overdoses of ivermectin, which is approved for use in humans for things like river blindness and an infection of a roundworm known as Strongyloides stercoralis, can cause seizures, comas and even death.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations remain high

Modeling from Los Alamos National Labs for the state of New Mexico shows that the current surge of COVID-19 cases could peak soon. That’s according to state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross, who was one of three top state health officials who spoke during a press conference on Wednesday. “We all need to continue doing our part with all of the mitigation measures, so masking indoors, avoiding crowds, every eligible person, please get out and get a vaccine, etc.,” she said. She said it was a “possible plateau” but the state would need more data to make sure it wasn’t a blip in the data. Vaccinations remained a key point for Ross and other officials.

40 million people rely on the Colorado River. It’s drying up fast.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.Series: Killing the Colorado The Water Crisis in the West

This story was originally published by ProPublica

On a 110-degree day several years ago, surrounded by piles of sand and rock in the desert outside of Las Vegas, I stepped into a yellow cage large enough to fit three standing adults and was lowered 600 feet through a black hole into the ground. There, at the bottom, amid pooling water and dripping rock, was an enormous machine driving a cone-shaped drill bit into the earth. The machine was carving a cavernous, 3-mile tunnel beneath the bottom of the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead. Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure on the Colorado River, supplying fresh water to Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico.

ICUs full as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations grow

The growing number of COVID-19 cases and the strain on hospitals is a concern in New Mexico, with crisis standards of care likely to come in a week. So much so that currently there are currently fifty people on a waitlist to find an ICU bed, Acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s a completely new phenomenon,” Scrase said, who also said those on the waiting list are very sick individuals who need to be in the ICU. “It’s now. It’s temporary and I think it’s well-meaning people trying not to close off all hope, but it’s moving slowly,” Scrase said.