Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 p.m. MDT
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO
New Mexico shifts metrics, some virus restrictions relaxedALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Friday marks the start of New Mexico's updated color-coded framework for determining COVID-19 risks in each of the state's 33 counties. State health officials have shifted the metrics, meaning more counties are now at a level at which there are fewer restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities. In all, 24 counties are at the least-restrictive turquoise level, followed by six at green and three at yellow. The framework was adjusted to accommodate increasing vaccination rates. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said earlier this week that the state is on track to have at least 60% of residents fully vaccinated by the end of June.
- NUCLEAR LAB-NEW MEXICO
US pushes ahead with nuclear plans despite watchdog concernsALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The federal agency that oversees U.S. nuclear research and bomb-making has signed off on the design and cost range for investments needed for a project to manufacture key components for the nation's nuclear arsenal. The plan calls for making at least 30 plutonium cores per year at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. The National Nuclear Security Administration says design and construction could cost upwards of $4 billion initially. Watchdog groups have concerns about the lab's safety and security record. Lab Director Thom Mason during a virtual community meeting Thursday said the goal is not to expand the arsenal but to extend the life of the existing stockpile.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NAVAJO NATION
Navajo Nation reports 6 new COVID-19 cases, 3 more deathsWINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported six new confirmed COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. Tribal health officials say the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,491 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah with 1,276 known deaths. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says more than half of the reservation's adult population has been vaccinated. But people still need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and avoid large gatherings.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-TRIBAL HOSPITAL
New Mexico tribe, US agency reach agreement over hospitalALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. government has agreed to provide emergency and in-patient care at a hospital on tribal lands in New Mexico at least through next February. The Indian Health Service reached an agreement with Acoma Pueblo to keep the hospital open while officials determine what resources will best meet the needs of the Indigenous community going forward. The pueblo announced the court-approved agreement Thursday. A federal judge signed off earlier this week but noted the case could be reopened if the deal is violated. The pueblo had sued in January, saying the lack of emergency health care could not have come at a worse time.
- POPULATION STAGNANT-NEW MEXICO
Study says future of New Mexico may include fewer people.SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A new assessment of demographic trends in New Mexico says a population decline is imminent, with consequences for public spending and services. The report Thursday from the Legislature's budget and accountability office adds to indications in the 2020 census of a population slowdown and suggests that schools and universities may want to plan accordingly. At the same time, economic development officials are marshalling tax incentives to attract new employers to a state with a relatively weak economy and poor national rankings in education, health and safety. Demographers project a pronounced drop in school- and working-aged residents and a drain on rural areas.
- PANDEMIC SCHOOL SPENDING
New Mexico schools begin to spend $1.5 billion pandemic aidSANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials are beginning to spend $1.5 billion in federal pandemic relief set aside for school districts and the Public Education Department. The Legislative Finance Committee said in a release Thursday that school districts have spent around 4% of the funds so far. They've got plenty of time to budget the three rounds of relief money, which have deadlines between the fall of 2022 and 2024. School districts say they've spent millions on laptops for students, safety equipment for schools, and hazard pay for frontline workers. They're also planning to use the money to ramp up summer programs and tutoring.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-UNEMPLOYMENT
New Mexico to encourage unemployed to return to workSANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told Albuquerque business leaders that the state will soon adopt new policies encouraging residents receiving jobless benefits to go back to work. The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that the Democratic governor said the policies would be unveiled in the next week or so and that extended benefits should not be a "disincentive" to work. Some business owners have said they are struggling to compete against expanded unemployment benefits, saying incentives have yet to attract a large applicant pool. Advocacy groups argue workers should not be blamed for not wanting to put their families at risk.
- STATEHOUSE REOPENS-NEW MEXICO
New Mexico reopens state Capitol to general publicSANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico state Capitol building has reopened to the public as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. It was closed to the general public for four consecutive legislative sessions. About 50 visitors wandered the corridors of the circular Statehouse on Wednesday as the doors were unlocked to all visitors for the first time in roughly a year. They were asked to wear masks and most if not all abided. Legislators shifted last spring to mostly virtual committee hearings as the pandemic took hold. Voting even took place remotely from outside the Capitol among members of the House of Representatives.