LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Administrators at New Mexico State University know they’re headed into a fall semester this week facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, but they still hope to make campus life as normal as possible. NMSU Vice Chancellor and Chief COVID-19 Officer Ruth Johnston said they’ve tightened protocols, meaning students and system employees at all five campuses will need to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis, beginning September 30. “And the reason for that was not because we wanted to delay things or make our community less safe,” said Johnston. “In fact, we wanted to give people the opportunity to be able to get the vaccine if they hadn’t already.” The University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College have both issued similar policies, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The University of New Mexico has not hosted a basketball home game at the iconic University Arena, known as The Pit, since early in 2020. But the arena will soon have crowds again for a very different reason, as University of New Mexico Health announced it would use the property as a site for mass-COVID-19 vaccinations as the state moves to expand vaccinations. The plan is currently to start vaccinations at the site on Jan. 19. UNM Hospitals Chief Executive Officer Kate Becker said UNM Health said “vaccination is the key to getting past this pandemic.”
She estimated the facility would be able to administer 1,680 doses of the Pfizer vaccine per day, then ramp up to double that number, nearly 3,400, when those who are vaccinated need their second shot of the vaccine.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act during the 2020-2021 judicial term, the result for New Mexicans could be catastrophic, according to various officials and experts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas on November 10. If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Monday, as is expected, this will be among the first cases she will hear as a Supreme Court justice. If she is confirmed, she will create a new 6-3 conservative bloc on the court bench which could lead to a ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional. If this happens, 20 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage, according to a report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement walked back its plan to prohibit distance learning for international students Tuesday. The plan which targeted students on nonimmigrant F-1 or M-1 visas from being able to take all of their course work online this coming fall threw a few thousand students in New Mexico into uncertainty. The University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University have 1,100 and 1,000 international students respectively. New Mexico Tech has 134 and Western New Mexico University in Silver City has about 50 international students while Highlands University in Las Vegas has about 60. Highlands University President Sam Minner told NM Political Report on Tuesday the ICE policy issued last week is “shameful.”
Minner said where possible, the university was advising international students to take a thesis class in the fall to satisfy the ICE requirement that at least one class be in-person.
New Mexico is one of 18 states suing the Trump administration over the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that targets international students. The lawsuit calls the new regulation an “insuperable burden” on American colleges and universities as they now have to certify every international student’s respective class schedule to demonstrate that the students are not taking all of their course work online, by August 4. ICE issued the new regulation last week, which some affected New Mexico institutions of higher learning called “vague.” New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has 134 international students. The University of New Mexico has 1,100 and New Mexico State University has about a 1,000. The regulation states that students on nonimmigrant F-1 or M-1 visas cannot legally remain in the country if all of their course work is online.
New U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regulations on international students is creating uncertainty on New Mexico university campuses. ICE issued a news release Monday that restricts students who are on F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas. Students on F-1 visas pursue academic coursework while students on M-1 visas take vocational training. ICE’s new regulation prohibits students on F-1 and M-1 visas from remaining in the U.S. legally if they take online course work only. During the start of the pandemic, when many colleges, including New Mexico State University, shifted to online only classes, ICE made an exception for international students because it was the middle of the semester, said Seth Miner, director of admissions, orientation and international student and scholar services for NMSU.
Proposed cuts to higher education spending in New Mexico could jeopardize some research funding for state universities and lead to a hiring freeze at Santa Fe Community College, advocates say. Universities and colleges in New Mexico are denouncing proposed cuts to higher education spending as lawmakers trim budgets across state government to fill a $2.4 billion budget hole wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastated oil and gas market. A draft House bill seeking to blend recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and an influential budget committee would slash roughly 6 percent from research and public service projects at universities and 4 percent for broader university and public college funding from the state. That would represent the steepest reductions for any state-funded department or agency eyeing potential cuts as lawmakers address the budget shortfall. The Legislature is still debating the proposed cuts.
A report by the Urban Institute found that homelessness in Albuquerque has nearly quadrupled since 2013. In 2013 there were 144 homeless in Albuquerque but in 2019 there were 567, according to the report.
The City of Albuquerque funded and assisted with the nonprofit research organization’s report, which was released Wednesday. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller devoted his daily press conference to discussing the report and called the report’s findings “sobering.”
Albuquerque Deputy Director of Housing and Homelessness Lisa Huval said the pandemic is “likely to exacerbate housing instability.”
“More households are struggling,” she said. Keller mentioned that the city’s West Side Shelter went from winter only availability to year-round availability for the city’s homeless shortly after he took office as one way the city has worked to help those who need it to have a bed to sleep in. The city operates the West Side Shelter, which is near the Double Eagle Airport.
Planned Parenthood, through its various PACs, is spending $390,000 on the New Mexico primary, and the bulk of that on three races. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Action Fund, said the nonprofit organization is “laser focused” on the progressives running against the seven Democratic incumbents who voted against HB 51 last year. HB 51 would have repealed a 1969 abortion law that abortion rights supporters worry will become law again if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But of the seven, there are three races in particular where Planned Parenthood is spending the bulk of its money. Those are Neomi Martinez-Parra’s race against state Sen. John Arthur Smith for Senate District 35; Siah Correa Hemphill’s fight to unseat state Sen. Gabriel “Gabe” Ramos for Senate District 28; and Pam Cordova’s challenge against state Sen. Clemente Sanchez for Senate District 30.
New Mexico is one of two states – the other is New York – that meets the gating criteria set by the White House for reopening, according to a group of public health and crisis experts. A website called covidexitstrategy.org is mapping the state-by-state response to reopening and, according to the map, only New Mexico and New York meet the gating criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization is made up of public health and crisis experts who are nonpartisan and worked at the federal level during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, according to the site. The criteria include things like the number of ICU beds available and the downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico’s secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, talked about the map and New Mexico’s criteria for reopening during a town hall meeting broadcast live through social media Wednesday along with Dr. Richard Larson, vice chancellor for research with the University of New Mexico Health Science.