COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 76 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total thus far to 24,469. Bernalillo County had 19 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 10 and Eddy and Lea counties each with nine. Santa Fe County had three new cases.
Despite Santa Fe County's low case count yesterday, it has had notably rising cases over the last week. A state epidemiologist hypothesized during a news conference last week that higher cases in the area could be attributable to visitors, but a DOH spokesman tells SFR the department is currently "taking a deep dive into our data to see the extent for which there is a rise in cases, what recent cases have in common and see if indeed there is a common cause or not." Mayor Alan Webber said yesterday the city plans to refocus its efforts on tackling cases in the 87505 and 87507 zip codes (roughly the center and southern parts of the city), the latter of which has had more than 54% of the county's 780 total cases.
The state also announced two more deaths yesterday, in Lea and McKinley counties. There have been 747 fatalities. As of yesterday, 68 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
The state's Medical Advisory Team recently released a report examining the current strategies in testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, along with recommendations for expanding testing. These include: using rapid antigen and molecular tests for early symptomatic patients; and developing a pooling strategy for low-prevalence populations.
Fires on the mountain
As of last night, the Medio Fire—which began burning Aug. 17 close to the forest boundary with Nambe Pueblo—had grown to 2,702 acres with 18% containment. A second fire, spotted late Sunday near the Caja del Rio Plateau west of the city, had already jumped to an estimated 600 acres by Monday night and was 0% contained. Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton tells SFR the Caja Fire—which officials say was probably caused by lightening—is not in a heavily forested area like the Medio Fire, which likely is "going to be an advantage" for firefighters. As for the Medio Fire, its cause remains unknown. Incident Commander Carl Schwope says the current strategy is to keep the fire north of Forest Road 102, no easy task given the terrain. Fire Operations Section Chief Buck Wickham cautioned residents during a virtual community meeting last night that the Medio Fire is far from resolved: "We want to feel confident in what we are doing and the accomplishments that we have made. All it takes is one thunderstorm in the wrong area…the fuel is there, the topography is there where we could lose this fire," he said. You can view an interactive map of the fire here. You can view an interactive smoke map here.
Forest restrictions start Wednesday
The Santa Fe National Forest announced yesterday that Stage 1 fire restrictions will go into effect throughout the forest at 6 am Wednesday morning in response to the severe fire weather. The restrictions also will allow firefighters to focus on the Medio Fire as well as the new Caja Fire, according to a SFNF news release. Under Stage 1 restrictions, fires, campfires, charcoal grills and coal and wood stoves are allowed only in developed campsites or picnic areas where agency-built fire rings or grills are provided for use. Campfires are prohibited at all dispersed camping sites. "While the SFNF is still welcoming visitors, the annual monsoon season was a disappointment, and fire indices are spiking which historically is not typical for this time of year," the release reads. "This year's fire season also has the added layer of complexity from COVID-19. The Stage 1 restrictions are a proactive way to reduce the very real risk of human-caused wildfire, protect natural and cultural resources, and enhance public and firefighter safety."
New suit filed on prisoners’ behalf
Advocates for state prisoners filed a class action lawsuit against the state yesterday for its treatment of incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACLU of New Mexico and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, joined by international law firm Faegre Drinker and Albuquerque-based lawyer Ryan J. Villa, filed suit in the First Judicial District against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Department of Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero and Probation and Parole Director Melanie Martinez. Parties in the suit also include 10 incarcerated people with medical conditions. The suit follows one filed by the ACLU and others last spring in the state Supreme Court, in which the court found the parties had not proved the state's actions toward inmates had been "deliberate and intentional." Since then, cases in the state's prisons have continued to grow, particularly at Otero Prison, where more than 86% of inmates have tested positive. The lawsuit seeks to reduce the number of people imprisoned in the state and to ensure the prisons have COVID-19-safe hygiene practices in place.
August ushered in a very different type of back-to-school vibe. The sixth episode of No More Normal breaks down what students, educators and parents are grappling with as classes resume. Guests include: Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise creator Jane Elliott; Atrisco Heritage Academy High School senior Israel Reyes; Jasmine Yepa, coordinator for the Tribal Education Alliance and senior analyst for the Native American Budget and Policy Institute; show host Khalil Ekulona's mother, Olufemi Ekulona; Partnership for Community Action Community Advocacy Manager Antonio Granillo; and many others. No More Normal is a collaboration between KUNM, SFR and New Mexico PBS.
Lessons from Cuba
Speaking of the school year, the Cuba Independent School District has tackled its students' challenges head-on, using a mix of hands-on dedication and technology. Firstly, 11 bus drivers put close to 900 miles on their vehicles each day delivering food and education kits to the district's more than 500 students. Because so many of Cuba's students lack sufficient broadband or cellular service, the district distributed special bracelets armed with built-in USB-drives to all the students, who use them to download lessons when they drive to an internet hotspot. New Mexico Education Secretary Ryan Stewart was impressed by the bracelets during a recent visit to the district and thinks they would be useful throughout the state. "That is absolutely something that could very well be an important piece that some of these other rural districts who have similar access challenges like Cuba might be able to learn from," he said.
Artist Rose Simpson discusses her practice
Santa Clara Pueblo-based artist Rose B. Simpson joins the Princeton University Art Museum for an online discussion today at 3:30 pm as part of the series "Contemporary Conversations: Artistic Practice in Response to the Present," a partnership between the Art Museum and the Lewis Center for the Arts. Simpson will talk with Mitra Abbaspour, Haskell curator of modern and contemporary art, about her practice and her philosophy on the role of her art in the world. Martha Friedman, director of Visual Arts at the Lewis Center, will moderate the session. You'll find free registration for the Zoom event here.
Expect more widespread haze before noon today. Otherwise, today will be mostly sunny with a high near 89 degrees today, and isolated showers and thunderstorms after 3 pm with a 20% chance of precipitation. We also have a slight chance of more isolated storms this evening.