DOH announces 149 new COVID-19 cases, nine new deaths

New Mexico health officials on Sunday announced 149 new positive cases of COVID-19 and an additional nine deaths related to the disease. The new numbers bring the state’s total to 6,943 positive cases and 317 deaths

Due to reporting delays on Sundays, the state also said the numbers are not necessarily a complete picture, but that Monday’s numbers will reflect any missed cases. 

The state reported 213 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase of five over Saturday’s number, and 2,464 people have recovered from the disease, an increase of 107 over Saturday. Some of those who are currently hospitalized for the disease may have come from out of state. 

Below is the breakdown of new cases by county:

12 new cases in Bernalillo County3 new cases in Chaves County7 new cases in Cibola County17 new cases in Doña Ana County1 new case in Eddy County64 new cases in McKinley County2 new cases in Otero County1 new case in Rio Arriba County1 new case in Roosevelt County9 new cases in Sandoval County23 new cases in San Juan County3 new cases in Santa Fe County1 new case in Taos County1 new case in Torrance County3 new cases in Valencia County1 new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Otero County Prison Facility

Below is the breakdown of the most recent deaths related to COVID-19:

A male in his 60s from McKinley County. The individual was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. The individual was a resident of the Red Rocks Care Center in Gallup.A male in his 70s from McKinley County.

As Santa Fe faces budget pinch, property taxes at low rate of what’s allowed

Tax revenues across the state are plummeting in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and municipalities are struggling to plug holes in their budgets. For its part, Santa Fe expects a $46 million shortfall for fiscal year 2020, much of it stemming from an immense drop in revenue from the Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). Austerity measures like a spending freeze and the release of temporary employees along with  tapping the city’s reserve funds still leaves Santa Fe officials with about $16.5 million unaccounted for. 

Fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1, looks even more dire; city officials are expecting a $100 million shortfall. There is another option for raising revenue, however. According to a study by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) from 2018, Santa Fe charges less than half of what the state allows for property taxes.

175 new COVID-19 cases, six additional deaths amid surge in tests

State health officials announced Saturday 175 additional positive tests for COVID-19 and six additional deaths related to the disease. The state processed more than 10,700 tests, by far its most tests in a single day. The previous highest number, on Friday, was just over 5,616. Of the new cases, 37 were among those held by federal agencies at facilities in Otero County, including 26 held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Otero County Processing Center. The new cases bring the total number of positive COVID-19 tests to 6,795 and the six additional deaths bring the state’s total to 308.

Public schools could avert deep cuts in June session, top lawmaker says

New Mexico has enough from savings plus new money from Washington to help public schools weather looming budget shortages, says Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a powerful lawmaker who helps to shape each year’s state budget. “It would be prudent to make some cuts but not deep cuts for the 21 budget,” Smith said Thursday morning of the public education portion of the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. 

On Wednesday during an online update on COVID-19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed a desire to keep spending on public schools intact during a special legislative session she has called for June 18 to tackle a budget hole projected between $1.8 billion and $2.4 billion for the state’s fiscal year that begins July 1. 

On Thursday her spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, reiterated his boss’ position: It’s “premature to talk about cuts. We’ll know when the special session gets closer.”

The significant hit to the state budget is due to a near shutdown of the economy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a collapse in consumer spending and global demand for oil and gas, both of which feed New Mexico’s revenue base through wages and taxes. 

Smith based his opinion on multiple developments: the lion’s share of $120 million from the recently passed CARES Act in Washington that will go to the state’s 89 school districts and dozens of charter schools. New Mexico’s decision to salt away in savings more than $1.5 billion dollars during the legislative session that ended in February. And $325 million in money that individual school districts have in their own reserves.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (5/23/20 edition)

This daily recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free daily email. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. The state now has more than 300 COVID-19-related deaths and over 6,600 confirmed cases. See the details here.Navajo Nation health officials reported 95 additional COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths; the Navajo Nation has now found 4,529 COVID-19 cases and recorded 149 COVID-19-related deaths. Health officials say about 1,235 people have recovered.

State suspends permits of restaurants that defied public health

The state suspended the food service permits for two restaurants that defied the state’s public health order and allowed dine-in service. The state Environment Department made the announced Friday afternoon. The two restaurants are Jalisco Cafe in Silver City and Anaheim Jacks in Ruidoso. The department cited a portion of the Food Service and Sanitation Act that states, the department can suspend a license if “conditions within a food service establishment present a substantial danger of illness, serious physical harm or death to consumers who might patronize the food service establishment.”

The restaurants can appeal the decision. If the restaurants continue to serve food, the department warned that they could legally pursue civil penalties in state district court of $500 per person.

COVID-19 deaths in NM cross 300, total cases now over 6,600

More than 300 people in New Mexico have now died with cases related to COVID-19, state health officials announced on Friday. The state crossed the 300 death total with the eight additional deaths announced. The state Department of Health also announced 160 new cases of COVID-19, including more than 40 new cases in three counties: Bernalillo, McKinley and San Juan. The state now has 6,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 302 deaths related to the disease. Of the eight additional COVID-19-related deaths, four came from San Juan County, three came from Bernalillo County and one from McKinley County.

The feds gave a former White House official $3 million to supply masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some may not work.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience. The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use.

Campaigns forced to adapt during COVID-19 pandemic

Candidates are getting creative in how they connect with voters amid a COVID-19 pandemic. With about a week left before the primary election, some candidates are leaning on phone calls, text messages and social media more than usual in lieu of in-person campaign rallies or forums, even as tens of thousands of voters have already cast ballots through absentee or early in-person voting. 

Brett Phelps, a Democrat who is running for district attorney in the state’s 4th judicial district said a lack of face-to-face interaction with voters is one of the biggest challenges. Phelps, a criminal defense attorney, normally could have a more personable conversation with voters to make his pitch about why his experience on the defense side is better than his opponent who has worked for years in the DA’s office. He said, instead, he has been focusing on putting up campaign signs and making phone calls. 

“One of the hardest things, when we do have personal interactions, is not shaking hands,” Phelps said. “Shaking hands and kissing babies, that’s what they told me it was all about when I got into this.” 

Even when asking supporters to display one of his yard signs, Phelps said, he has to make a phone call first instead of knocking on doors. 

But, it is those person-to-person conversations that political hopefuls often count on that makes things the most difficult. 

“Not being able to meet with people face-to-face and answer their questions personally has definitely been a struggle,” Phelps said. 

Even walking door to door in more urban areas can present problems during a pandemic, said state House Republican candidate Jill Michel.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (5/22/20 edition)

Thursday, state health officials announced 163 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional COVID-19-related deaths. Of the new cases, nearly a quarter—40—were in Doña Ana County. The state also crossed 150,000 processed tests.