Governor mandates face masks at retail stores, restaurants
SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is ordering workers at retail stores and restaurants to wear face coverings as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, starting with big box stores and major grocery stores.
The requirement extends to other essential businesses starting on May 11. Lujan Grisham made the announcement in a video news conference as state health officials warned that current trends in coronavirus infections might compel the state to extend a stay-at-home order past May 15.
Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the state has not yet achieved a uniform downward trend in infections and aggregated cell phone data shows that residents are traveling more.
New Mexico health officials on May 5 updated the statewide total for confirmed infections to 4,138, with 162 deaths.
Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced that the state would begin systematically testing prison inmates for the first time and intended to test all guards and staff, along with 25% of inmates, by May 13.
The governor also announced that federal recovery funds will be channeled into so-called hazard pay for child care workers, with full-time workers receiving an additional $700 a month in recognition of their critical role in society.
Concerns about new infections extended to a meat packing plant in southern New Mexico, where more than 400 workers have been tested after one employee at the facility turned up positive for COVID-19.
Republican US House primary in gets personal, nasty
RIO RANCHO — A candidate in a contentious Republican U.S. House primary in southern New Mexico is calling for one of her opponents to withdraw amid an increasingly personal and nasty contest.
Oil executive Claire Chase demanded on May 4 that former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell exit the race “for the good of the Republican Party” over accusations Herrell was pushing false rumors around Chase's first marriage — charges Herrell vigorously denies.
In an interview with The Associated Press, retired U.S. Marine Jared Richardson said Herrell called last month after he announced his support for Chase on social media and told him that Chase cheated on her first husband while he was deployed in Afghanistan. But according to Chase, she met her current husband after her divorce and two years following her former husband's return from deployment.
Herrel said she called Richardson on April 8 to discuss her run for the seat in 2018 — Richardson has supported another GOP candidate — and said Richardson later called her back and accused her of spreading the Chase rumor, she said his allegation was “100% false."
And a text message exchange between a conservative provocateur cartoonist and Herrell shows that the former state lawmaker sought to make copywriting changes to a meme attacking Chase over her first marriage.
According to the text messages obtained by The AP, Herrell offered suggestions about a meme created by a local Republican, saying, "It should say gold digging, not good digging."
Herrell campaign spokesman Paul Smith confirmed that the text messages are authentic but said Herrell was just responding to Rael, who had texted her nonstop.
Herrell denied the accusations, which she called “blatant lies,” and she would not be dropping out of the race.
University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said the nastiness of the GOP primary will leave the eventual winner so battered and bruised that Republicans will have a hard time going up against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces in the general election.
17 Mormon temples to reopen for marriage ceremonies
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said May 7 it would reopen 17 of its sacred temples for wedding ceremonies as Utah state officials revealed the tally of new unemployment claims slowed for a fifth consecutive week but remained at historic levels.
Church officials said in a news release that 17 temples in Utah, Idaho, Germany and Sweden will reopen for marriage ceremonies only with a limited number of guests. The faith plans a four-phase reopening of its 167 temples worldwide that were closed after the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
Eleven of the temples being reopened on May 11 are in Utah, including ones in Bountiful, Cedar City, Provo and Logan.
The announcement came one day after Utah state officials said churches can begin holding services again as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Despite that, Latter-day Saint worship services held on Sundays at churches will remain shuttered, church officials said. Temples are used only for sacred ordinances.
Utah has the fifth-lowest rate of confirmed deaths per 100,000 people, the fifth-lowest rate of positive tests and the sixth-highest rate of people tested per 1,000, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Lawsuit seeks to block state’s restrictions due to virus
BOISE — Three northern Idaho residents have filed a federal lawsuit challenging statewide restrictions ordered by Gov. Brad Little due to the coronavirus, saying it violates their religious freedoms.
Two religious leaders and a churchgoer filed the lawsuit on May 7 against Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.
The lawsuit targets Little's stay-at-home order as unconstitutional and specifically cites restrictions on religious gatherings. That order expired on May 7 and was replaced by one that allows church gatherings, but still requires social distancing.
But attorneys said the remaining restrictions on churches remain unconstitutional and they plan to request a temporary restraining order to have them lifted.
They also said they're concerned Little could reinstate the stay-at-home order should Idaho see a spike in infections and deaths due to the virus.
Nathan MacPherson, an attorney who filed the lawsuit, said it wasn't exactly clear how the lawsuit might affect other types of gatherings, such as in movie theaters.
Scott Graf, spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said his office had no comment.
Wasden has previously said Little's stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus is legal and clearly defined by law. In a release, he also said that both the director of the Department of Health and Welfare and local public health districts have authority to issue quarantine and isolation orders.
Mermaids returning to motel tiki bar as it reopens
GREAT FALLS — For patrons at a Montana tiki bar that has a back wall of a window into a motel swimming pool, it's typical to see mermaids in the water five nights a week.
So as the owner of the O'Haire Motor Inn and the Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls began preparing to reopen the bar after eight weeks of coronavirus-related restrictions, she wanted things to be as close to normal as possible — and that included the underwater entertainment.
Sandra Thares said she emailed regulators for guidance on whether mermaid shows could resume.
Gov. Steve Bullock's office said yes. The Cascade County health department said no, believing pools couldn't reopen until the third phase of the gradual reopening of the state's economy.
After some back-and-forth in which the governor's office noted hotel pools could reopen for registered guests with social distancing guidelines, the county OK'd the mermaid entertainment as long as only one mermaid was in the pool at a time, Thares said. There's usually two.