NM’s COVID-19 Cases Reach Record Highs; Military Med Team Arriving Soon

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported a single-day record-breaking 5,547 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 393,736. DOH has designated 321,858 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 1,513 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 994 and Sandoval County with 359. Santa Fe County had 320, of which 126 were from the 87507 ZIP code, which ranked ninth in the state among ZIP codes for the most new cases. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate rose from 27.4% to 27.8% (the target is 7.5%).

According to the state’s most recent vaccination case report from Jan. 10, over the last four weeks (Dec. 13-Jan. 10), 60.1% of COVID-19 cases have been among those who are not vaccinated, as have 82.6% of hospitalizations and 92.4% of deaths.

The state also reported 36 additional deaths yesterday, 21 of them recent, including a Santa Fe County male in his 60s who had been hospitalized. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard lists a total of 213 deaths from Santa Fe County; SFR continues to have pending questions with DOH regarding this figure as it appears to be an undercount of three based on our records. According to DOH, there have now been 6,109 total fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 609 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a 7% increase from the prior day.

Currently, 89.6% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 76.3% have had two. Among that demographic, 38.2% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 67.8% of people have had at least one dose and 57.9% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 31.2% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 20.4% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86% have completed their primary series.

DOH and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will be providing vaccines for adults and children ages 5-11 from 10 am to 6 pm every day through Jan. 16 at the Pojoaque Fire Department, County Road 179, and have capacity to administer more than 100 doses of the Pfizer and Pfizer for kids vaccines each day. Walk-ins welcome but registering will make the process faster.

New Mexicans can register for a COVID-19 vaccine here, schedule a COVID-19 vaccine booster here and view a public calendar for vaccine availability here. Parents can add dependents to their vaccine profiles here. You can read the updated guidelines for quarantine and isolation here.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Third military medical team coming to NM

President Joe Biden announced yesterday the deployment of federal medical teams to six hard-hit states, including New Mexico. According to a news release from the health department, state officials expect the 25-person Department of Defense Medium Medical Team to arrive in New Mexico within the next week and stay for 30 days to assist medical staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. This deployment of federal resources comes as a result of the state’s 2021 request to the Biden administration for additional staffing support, and is the third federal team to come to the state during the pandemic.

Hospitals here remain on crisis standards of care, and hospital officials earlier this week said they were overwhelmed and expect conditions to worsen. “Our hospitals have been overfilled since August and we are this week experiencing a new but expected surge in hospitalizations as a result of the Omicron variant,” Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a statement yesterday. “The combination of federal assistance and the 500 contracted healthcare personnel brought in by the Department of Health are helping us through this very difficult time. Please, everyone, get your booster, or get a first or second dose if you haven’t yet. It is the primary way that each of us can support those who are there 24x7 to provide for our medical needs in this time of crisis.” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said yesterday she also is considering asking the National Guard to help with New Mexico’s schools, which also are suffering from under-staffing. Additionally, Biden yesterday said that next week the federal government will announce a website from which people can offer free COVID-19 tests and a plan to provide free high-quality masks to the public.

Gov unveils crime agenda

In advance of the 30-day legislative session set to begin at noon on Jan. 18, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday announced a slate of public safety legislation. The even-year 30-day sessions are restricted to financial matters and any topics the governor designates. The package, which Lujan Grisham presented with Albuquerque lawmakers, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Attorney General Hector Balderas and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, include changes to the state’s pre-trial detention system; increased penalties for second degree murder and the removal of statute of limitations; and increased penalties for gun crimes. “Living in a safe and healthy community is the right of every New Mexican, and these are smart proposals that get and keep the worst of the worst off of New Mexico streets,” the governor said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with the Legislature to make sure that every one of these bills crosses the finish line.”

Changes to New Mexico’s pretrial detention system will be introduced in legislation (not filed as of press time) from state Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, and will impose a “rebuttable presumption,” the governor’s office says, “which seeks to ensure that those accused of murder, gun crimes, rape or other sex crimes do not pose a danger to the community before being released pending trial, keeping more violent offenders off New Mexico streets.” In a statement issued later in the day by House Democrats, Matthews says “with a record-breaking number of homicides in 2021, Albuquerque residents are demanding bold, nonpartisan action to reduce the level of violence in our city. Our courts need to be far more careful in releasing those charged with serious violent felonies pending their trials. An effective criminal justice system will deter those who would commit violent crimes and improve public safety.”

The Administrative Office of the Courts last fall highlighted a University of New Mexico study that analyzed nearly 10,300 cases in Bernalillo County between July 2017 and March 2020 in which defendants charged with felonies were released from custody pending trial. That study found 95% of felony defendants were not arrested for a violent crime while on pretrial release; approximately one-tenth of one percent of the total number of released defendants were arrested for a first-degree felony; and four of five released felony defendants were not arrested for a crime while awaiting trial. Of those who were arrested—1,950 out of 10,289—misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors and fourth-degree felonies accounted for most of the charged crimes.

Shape the future

Along with approximately 30 other states, New Mexico recently completed redistricting, a process always fraught with gerrymandering allegations, and with particularly high stakes this time around for congressional maps in advance of the 2022 mid-term elections (here’s a helpful Washington Post big-picture explainer on redistricting). New Mexico’s process included both racial and political tension, and litigation remains possible. Some advocates hope in the wake of such bitterness now might be an optimum time to push for a constitutional amendment which, if approved, would take redistricting authority away from legislators. SFR digs into this proposal in this week’s cover story. If you’d like to experience what it might be like to engage in a redistricting process first-hand, the City of Santa Fe is looking for folks with knowledge in areas such as demographics, statistics, history, geography, governmental structure and community dynamics to serve on its Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, which will be reviewing and revising, as needed, the city’s district boundaries, as required under city code. The commission includes one resident from each City Council district; one city resident who is a statistician; one who is either a geographer or cartographer; and one member-at-large. If the city is unable to fill the statistician and cartographer seats with city residents, county residents will be considered. Those interested should apply by sending an email by Jan. 28 to City Clerk/Community Engagement Department Director Kristine Mihelcic at kmmihelcic@santafenm.gov with the attached application.

School board grapples with pandemic plus

The Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education spent five hours last night grappling with a host of big issues, including the pandemic, redistricting and transparency. SFPS Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez announced earlier this week the district would return to remote learning for one week starting Jan. 18 in light of the current COVID-19 surge and staffing shortages. The board also decided to stick with its policy of designating one board member as a spokesperson for the board itself, despite recent criticism of this policy from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. The board designated board Secretary Sarah Boses as the designated spokesperson. Board counsel Tony Ortiz encouraged them to continue the practice: “There’s actually tremendous risk with each of you speaking and doing your own thing and going whatever direction you want, that people are going to be confused about what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve decided,” Ortiz said. “This isn’t a disservice to your community. This is a disservice to the newspaper that you won’t talk to them sooner, that you won’t talk to them when they want you to.”

Listen up

The Tiny Histories podcast features Santa Fean Jess Clark on a recent episode, in which Clark, the education and prevention manager for Solace Crisis Treatment Center, tells the story of the integral role Back Road Pizza played in his coming out trans as a young person, and how the business still plays a role in his life as an adult and a parent. The business, Clark says, provided him the first place as a teenager where he found community. We won’t spoil the story, but give a listen. And consider submitting your own tiny history.

Master of the universe

Ready to learn more about climate change, including what you can do to help? Then you’re in luck. The Santa Fe Watershed Association and the City of Santa Fe are offering a New Mexico Climate Masters course, 10 classes that run from Feb. 23 to April 13, with a curriculum focusing on climate change and the locally relevant interrelated connections between water, soil, food production, consumption/waste, forest management, transportation, energy and how we live our lives. The course, taught by Julie Hasty and Esha Chiocchio, will feature guest speakers and a field trip into the Upper Santa Fe Watershed (normally closed to the public). Upon completion, students must complete 30 hours of climate-related community service and upon doing so will receive the title of “Climate Master.” The entire course runs $25, with scholarships available, and will meet in person from 5:30 to 8 pm Wednesdays at Randall Davey Audubon Center.

Hasty, course instructor and the association’s education director, tells SFR the idea behind the course—originally developed at the University of Oregon Climate Leadership Initiative—is to “empower those people to take action in their community and feel like those actions they’re taking are meaningful.” The course will provide the global perspective on climate change, but also drill down into its local implications. The trip to the Upper Watershed, she says, helps attendees “connect them to and better understand their water supply…I think a lot of people grow up here in Santa Fe and don’t understand where their water comes from,” the Santa Fe native says. “I know I didn’t. Getting up there and making that connection between snow pack, runoff, where their water comes from, what the city has to do to treat the water to get it into their homes helps people appreciate water conservation and understand what it takes to protect their water.”

Flourish of trumpets

The weekend brings the opportunity to hear the first-ever concerto by a North American woman composer written for a woman trumpet soloist. The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 2019 co-commissioned a concerto for trumpet and orchestra from Juno-winning composer Vivan Fung, who wrote the piece for trumpet soloist Mary Elizabeth Bowden. That work is on the program for a concert at 4 pm this Sunday, Jan. 16 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, in a concert led by Principal Conductor Guillermo Figueroa and including works by Mozart, Haydn and Glinka, as well. SFR talks with trumpet soloist Bowden about her career and the commission itself. “It’s important to have new works created and to have them celebrated and performed,” Bowden says. “I’m really hoping it becomes part of the standard repertoire. We’re working on a piano reduction so more people can have it if they want it, and I definitely want it to outlive me.”

Come for the skiing; stay for the duds

New Mexico continues to attract attention from the outside world for myriad reasons, some of which kind of make sense if you don’t think about them too hard. Fatherly magazine includes Angel Fire resort in its “Best Ski Resorts for Families” story, noting it’s a top-notch spot for children to learn to ski: “Angel Fire’s ski school offers group lessons for kids 3-12, and with 21 percent beginner and 56 percent intermediate terrain, progression feels natural and less intimidating than neighboring Taos. Night skiing, sledding, and tubing make for great after hours activities if the kids aren’t ready to head inside just yet.” RISMedia (which publishes Real Estate Magazine), on the other hand, includes Taos Ski Valley in its roundup of “Remote Ski Towns You Need to Visit” (is Taos remote?). Meanwhile, The Zoe Report talks with Liz Norment, a wedding officiant and honeymoon planner at Have Lover, Will Travel, who recommends including New Mexico on a Southwest honeymoon road trip that starts in Austin and ends in Joshua Tree: “Think retro-chic hotels to vintage ‘glamping’ experiences, long stretches of flat roads dotted with cacti, and plenty of room to breathe and unwind together,” she says. For the New Mexico portion, Norment recommends lovebirds camp in this dome.

Lastly, Roark and Wrangler announced a new limited men’s clothing collection yesterday called “Out of Range,” described in a press release as “a collaboration that captures the courageous and adventurous spirit of the west.” Apparently, in order to put the clothes “to the test,” Road “brought its multi-faceted crew of surfers, adventurers and ranchers to the dusty backwoods of New Mexico along the historic Continental Divide Trail. Off the grid for over a week, the Roark crew explored the backroads of New Mexico by way of horseback and dirt bikes to connect to the landmark exploration celebrated in Western storytelling.” Ryan Hitzel, Roark’s founder and chief executive officer said in another press release yesterday the company is “very excited to share an authentic take on elevated western workwear and the amazing journey we had on the Continental Divide via horseback and motorcycle.” You can read Roark’s “blog” about that adventure here. You can check out the clothes here.

Windy city

Today (TGIF!) will be sunny, with a high near 50 degrees and northwest wind 10 to 20 mph. Tonight, we have a 20% chance for rain and/or snow showers before 11 pm. As for the weekend, the National Weather Service says we’ll see high temps in the low 40s on Saturday and high 40s on Sunday with plenty of wind both days.

Thanks for reading! The Word finally capitulated to the hoopla and checked out Wordle. Fun. It’s no Spelling Bee, but what is? And yes, she’ll be spending her long weekend playing word games like they’re going out of style (which apparently they are not). The Morning Word returns Tuesday, Jan. 18 after the federal Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday on Monday.