Navajo Nation asks tourists and other visitors to stay home as first Covid-19 cases emerge

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sat at a desk with Chlorox handwipes as he announced through an online broadcast that the Navajo Nation was closed to outside visitors now that two Navajo people have tested positive in the Kayenta, AZ area. 

There won’t be barricaded roads, but tourist areas are closed and he asked everyone to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation by not visiting during what he called an unprecedented situation. “The best thing to do is stay at home,” he said. 

In making the case for travelers to not come to the Navajo Nation, he noted that the first cases that emerged in New Mexico were from people who had traveled outside the state, bringing the “bug” home. He explained “bug,” saying was the best translation of virus in the Navajo language. 

Nez emphasized rapidly changing conditions, noting that recommendations from the federal government first limited gatherings to under 100, but have lowered now to groups of 10. He urged people to pay attention and to follow the advice of leaders. 

“We’re not closing down churches or ceremonies, but these are recommendations, just like we’re doing now, keeping 6 feet between us, rotating in and out of this room,” he said about how he and his colleagues were operating the press conference. 

The two people who tested positive are in stable condition at hospitals in Phoenix. They are from Chilchinbeto, AZ, which is in Navajo County. 

Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo area Indian Health Service, said extensive contact tracing is happening in Chilchinbeto to identify anyone who might have been exposed to the virus through contact with the people who tested positive so they can get tested. 

In total, she said there have been over 100 people tested in Navajo area IHS facilities and they have results from about 20% of those.

Summit takes stock of education gains, goals for Doña Ana County

It’s been five years since the Success Partnership convened its first summit to create goals for “cradle to career” education in Doña Ana County. A lot has changed since then. Ngage New Mexico, an education-focused community organization that created the Success Partnership and organized a follow up summit Monday at New Mexico State University, wanted to put the changes in perspective with a comprehensive look at education data over that period from home visiting and preK to college and workforce training. Since 2015, Las Cruces Public Schools started its first community school to bring social services and after school programs to students and on Saturday the district will inaugurate three more. Graduation rates jumped at two of the county’s school districts, from 75% in 2015 to 86% in 2019 at LCPS, and 67% to 77% at Hatch Valley Schools, while inching up at Gadsden from 81% to 82%. 

The all-day gathering was part pep rally to celebrate successes, part tough talk about bumps in the road to better education results and part brainstorming session to chart the course ahead.  

Lori Martinez, executive director of Ngage NM, an education nonprofit based in Las Cruces.

House GOP put kibosh on electric vehicles in final hours of session

Time ran out on the short 2020 legislative session, and with it, a bill that would have boosted New Mexicans’ ability to afford electric vehicles. House Bill 217 was killed on the last day of the 30-day session Feb. 20, during an effort by House Republicans to slow debate on the floor during precious few remaining hours.  

The measure would have created an income tax credit for people who purchase or lease a new electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or who install a charging station for the vehicle at their home. It also imposed an annual registration fee of $20 to $50 for each vehicle to feed the state fund used to maintain roads. Those who drive gas-powered cars already pay into the fund through a fee collected at the pump, currently 17 cents for every gallon of gasoline purchased. 

Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla

Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, one of HB217’s sponsors, said changes the Senate made to the bill once it passed the House made the measure more “moderate,” but House Republicans still filibustered final approval in the few remaining hours of the session.

Lawmakers may be more accessible via social media

Sen. Jacob R. Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, takes a selfie on the House floor of the New Mexico Roundhouse. Candelaria is one of three legislators who were rated super active on both Twitter and Facebook. (Celia Raney, NMID)

When the legislative session comes to an end today, lawmakers will disperse throughout the state. But communicating with them doesn’t end when legislative leaders gavel the session to a close. All legislators have contact information like a phone number or email address listed on the state’s legislative website, but for some lawmakers, 43% of them, there’s a good chance their constituents can communicate with them through social media, an analysis by NMID has found. 
New Mexico In Depth wanted to find out which lawmakers connect with the public through social media.

PED official: Solution to teacher shortage sitting in classroom

There are more than 335,000 potential teacher recruits in New Mexico — every child in the state’s public schools. 

That’s according to Gwen Perea Warniment, the deputy secretary in charge of teacher training and recruitment for the Public Education Department. She has a big job in a state where 644 classrooms were filled by long-term substitutes this school year. 

And as our report this week showed, that figure doesn’t really get at the state’s complicated hiring problem. It doesn’t show that rural and low-income schools have the toughest time hiring teachers, the massive lack in specialties like special education, bilingual and math classes, and that a growing reliance on people without education degrees has translated to greener teachers and higher turnover. Gwen Perea Warniment is deputy decretary for Teaching and Learning at the Public Education Department. (Courtesy of PED)

“There’s some important nuances to that because you have turnover in certain areas that’s much more severe than in others.