COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials reported 202 new COVID-19 cases yesterday—a high for the week following Wednesday's new case count of 154 and Monday's count of 73. Bernalillo County led the state with 39 new cases, followed by Eddy County with 37 and Doña Ana County with 29. Santa Fe County had 12 new cases.

The state also announced one additional death yesterday: a woman in her 70s from Doña Ana County, who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Good Samaritan Society facility in Las Cruces. As of yesterday, 75 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

You can read all of SFR's COVID-19 coverage here. If you've had experiences with testing or the virus, we would like to hear from you.

Gov amends quarantine order

As of today, travelers coming into New Mexico from states with a 5% test positivity rate for COVID-19 or lower, or a new case rate lower than 80 per 1 million residents—each calculated over a seven-day rolling average—or those with negative tests no longer need to self-quarantine for 14 days. The shift comes following an amended executive order signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham; previously, New Mexico required mandatory quarantine for visitors and residents arriving from any US state. The health department is maintaining a list of the 37 states (plus Puerto Rico) that do not currently qualify and are still considered high-risk. Self-quarantine is still required for all travelers coming from outside the US. Also as of today, places of lodging that have been safe-certified can expand maximum occupancy from 50 to 75%, under an amendment to the public health order.

Ready, set, learn

While Santa Fe Public Schools currently meets new state guidelines for re-opening, the district plans to remain in online-only mode through late October. Those guidelines permit districts within counties averaging daily COVID-19 cases of eight or fewer per 100,000 residents and test positivity rates of 5% or less over a 14-day rolling average to transition to a hybrid/in-person model for elementary school students after Labor Day, provided the state education department has approved the district's plan for doing so. Amid concerns that school re-openings in other states are already leading to new COVID-19 infections, state Education Secretary Ryan Stewart outlined the state's protocols for positive cases in schools during a news conference yesterday. Later in the evening, the Santa Fe Public Schools board of education voted in favor of a new policy to provide emergency childcare to district employees, following an internal survey showing need for such care by at least 200 employees.

Meow Wolf workers initiate union

Under the name Meow Wolf Workers Collective, employees at the arts behemoth announced yesterday they intend to organize as part of the Communications Workers of America union. "Once we're recognized, we will work with the company to negotiate a contract that represents the well-being of all workers in Meow Wolf. We believe this will set Meow Wolf apart from its peers in the immersive entertainment industry," organizer and Meow Wolf writer Bill Rodgers tells SFR. A statement from the company's CEO acknowledges workers' right to unionize, but noted "the policies, practices and culture already in place make our company a great place to work and we value our ability to work directly with employees. As such, we feel Meow Wolf works best without a union."  Meow Wolf previously faced two discrimination suits in both Santa Fe and Denver last year, both of which were settled out of court.

Medio Fire finale

A federal Type 2 incident management team is pulling out of the Medio Fire and leaving the rest of its mop-up in the Santa Fe National Forest to local personnel. The fire that began on Aug. 17 near the Rio en Medio is estimated to have burned 3,773 acres and is 90% contained. The fire's northern edge has run against the scar of the Pacheco Fire from 2011, and containments lines have been secured on its perimeter except for a portion on the western flank.  As the fire is now classified as less complex, the effort moves to the US Forest Service's Type 4 management team; 147 personnel were still assigned to the incident as of Thursday night's livestreamed community meeting. Operations Section Chief Buck Wickham said area residents will likely continue to see smoke as fuel within the fire perimeter is consumed, and that might last for the next week or two depending on the weather.  "It should be diminishing day by day," he said.

Listen up

Tonight's the night. The 96th Burning of Zozobra airs for free at 8 pm on KOAT Channel 7 and livestreams as well from Fort Marcy Park. But don't just listen to Zozobra: Be sure to watch to put those groans in context. This zero-crowd event will bring some much needed catharsis in a year of seemingly non-stop gloom. You can submit your gloom for incineration here. Now, let's get this party started. Here are some recipes provided by local restaurants for your Zozobra dinner. However you celebrate, don't forget to shout "Burn him."

Speaking of Old Man Gloom…

This year's online burning of Zozobra opens up the tradition to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has taken notice. ICYMI, a recent story in Mental Floss lays out the history and gestalt of the local tradition with an emphasis on its history of inclusivity. "Zozobra was a protest against the lack of inclusivity in the [Santa Fe] fiestas," Zozobra Event Director Ray Sandoval says. "Shuster so fundamentally understood human nature that Zozobra draws everybody in. It's not us burning a person. It's not racist, religious, or political." The story provides a good primer of Zozobra's past and a sneak preview of what tonight will bring: Zozobra changes year to year and, this year, he will reflect the spectacular crumminess of 2020 with silver and red hair fashioned to look like a coronavirus and gold murder hornet cuff links. "It's been a banner year for Zozobra," Sandoval says.

Obelisk update?

Last June, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber called for the removal of several controversial Santa Fe monuments following a meeting with members of the Indigenous advocacy group the Three Sisters Collective. City staff immediately removed the Don Diego de Vargas statue at Cathedral Park, and advocates celebrated the obelisk's pending excision, but nearly three months later, the obelisk in the center of the Santa Fe Plaza remains. Yesterday, Northern New Mexico SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) sent a letter to the mayor alleging Webber has not responded to the Three Sister's Collective's requests for an update, and asking for details on the status of the obelisk's fate.

May it please the court

The Supreme Court of New Mexico is seeking applications to fill upcoming year-end vacancies on many of its committees, boards and commissions. While some of the spots are reserved for lawyers and judges, several call for the general public, aka non-lawyers and non-judges. For example: the Board of Bar Examiners, the Code of Judicial Conduct Committee and the Code of Professional Conduct Committee. Applicants will be notified of the court's decisions at the end of the year. The deadline for applications is Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. The details for how to do so are located here.

Soak up the sun

Today's forecast calls for sunny skies with a high near 90 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. As for the long weekend, no signs of rain lie in the foreseeable future—just sunny days with a high of 89 degrees on Saturday and 94 degrees on Sunday and Monday. That may all change next week during which rain and a significant drop in temps appear in the horizon. Will it really only reach 66 degrees next Wednesday? Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading! The Word will need several days to recover from her favorite holiday (Zozobra), so this newsletter will return Tuesday, Sept. 8. Also: Monday is Labor Day.