COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 159 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 27,199. Bernalillo County led with 38 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 21 and Chaves County with 17. Santa Fe County had 10 new cases.
The state also announced four more deaths, including the sixth for Santa Fe County, along with additional fatalities in Bernalillo, Lea and McKinley counties; there have now been 836 total deaths. In announcing the deaths during an afternoon news conference yesterday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham noted: "I don't want this ever to become sounding or feeling routine. This is a serious deadly virus, and the tragedy and grief for these individuals and their families who are affected by losing their friends and family members…there is no way to adequately talk about that."
As of yesterday, 69 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 14 on ventilators. Overall, however, the governor said: "We believe we are trending in exactly the way we are hoping to and continue to be cautiously optimistic that we have flattened the curve again and are moving in the right direction."
Gov announces new allowed fall activities
As the official start of autumn approaches (Sept. 22 to be exact) and New Mexico continues making progress stemming COVID-19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new activities permitted under the emergency public health order: youth sports practice and training; camping at open state parks as of Oct. 1; ice-skating and swimming; and pick-your-own pumpkin patches. The new guidance limits group size for all activities to no more than 10 and requires adherence to COVID-safety practices. Forthcoming guidance from the state will include other fall-type activities such as haunted houses and corn mazes. Competitive contact sports are not still not allowed; the amended emergency public health order will be effective through mid-October. "These are changes really aimed at getting more safe COVID-safe options for kids, in particular for parents and families, to take advantage…of our incredible fall weather," the governor said, adding that she also welcomes suggestions for COVID-safe ways to celebrate Halloween.
SFPS employees ask to stay at home
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García says 304 of the district's employees have requested to either continue teaching remotely or change job duties in advance of SFPS opening for hybrid learning Oct. 15. Of those requests, 167 came from teachers; 139 have been approved, with the remaining pending. Numerous district employees expressed their concerns about the district's re-opening plan at last night's school board, including concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the school environment and the efficacy of hybrid learning itself. García says she intends to have that plan ready for the school board either at its Sept. 24 study session or Oct. 1 board meeting. As other districts return to hybrid models for elementary students, the Public Education Department reports daily cases of COVID across the state among students, staff and teachers; there have been 118 such cases since Aug. 17. Only districts in counties meeting criteria for case count and test positivity rates are permitted to open for partial in-person learning, a strategy challenged in a lawsuit filed this week against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other cabinet secretaries.
Racetracks and racinos want more options
Under draft legislation, New Mexico's five racetracks and racinos would be allowed to expand to have unlimited video slot machines, table games and on-site sports betting parlors. At the same time, other existing restrictions would be removed to allow alcohol to be served on casino floors; ATMs to be located on the casino floor; and for casinos to establish lines of credit to customers. According to the Albuquerque Journal, which obtained the draft legislation, the bill allows for internet gaming and 24-hour casino operations, and comes as racinos express frustration at remaining closed under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's COVID-19 public health order as some Native American casinos re-open. Anti-gaming advocate Albuquerque dentist Guy Clark described the proposed expansions as unprecedented in their scope, noting: "It is a betrayal of any attempt to restrict the amount of gambling addiction." Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino representatives will present the proposal to the Legislative Finance Committee at its Oct. 1 meeting.
In "Mars needs women: ChemCam and the future of space missions," the seventh and final episode of Los Alamos National Laboratory's limited podcast series Mars Technica, two members of the nearly all-female ChemCam team, Lisa Danielson and Nina Lanza, discuss the instrument that shoots a laser at rocks on the Red Planet to analyze their chemical makeup, as well as their own professional journeys. "I've been fascinated by Mars ever since I was a little kid," says ChemCam Operations Manager Lisa Danielson in a news release on the final episode. "I studied physics and astronomy, but I got my advanced degrees in geology because I realized that, to study other planets, I needed to understand rocks." All seven episodes exploring the tech behind the Perseverance rover currently en route to Mars are available here. SFR featured Lanza in this cover story when she had just become a full-time staffer at the lab in 2015.
Digest invasive species
SITE Santa Fe has not just re-opened its doors: The museum also kicks off its popular Digest This series this weekend, reimagined for the time of COVID-19. The interdisciplinary program, which always connects thematically to SITE's current exhibition, pairs "bite-sized" talks with a tasting prepared by a local chef. For 2020, instead of hosting these at SITE, the series will happen live on restaurant patios as well as through livestreams. Each will examine the concept of displacement from the museum's current show, DISPLACED: Contemporary Artists Confront the Global Refugee Crisis, by focusing on cuisine and chefs displaced from their native lands to New Mexico. First up, at noon tomorrow, Sept. 19, a lunch featuring edible invasive species, prepared and served at 315 by Chef Louis Moskow, with talks by field biologist Jason Roback and Southwest Director for the Institute for Applied Ecology Melanie Gisler. Seats are limited but rumor has it a few remain. Click here for details and here for info on upcoming programs at Paloma and Sazon.
Farmers endure summer of challenges
Summer drought, fire and COVID-19 impacted Northern New Mexico farmers reliant on acequias supplied by the Santa Cruz Lake reservoir. Typically, early-spring runoff fills the reservoir and flows into the acequias and river below the dam. When the runoff slows in early July, the Santa Cruz Irrigation District commissioners reduce flows and slowly ration water until the end of October, while summer monsoons add to the reservoir and keep farmers' fields lush. This year, runoff ended early, the monsoons never arrived, water was drained from the reservoir to help fight the Medio Fire, allocations were shut off early and communication and COVID-19 thwarted the normal meetings in which all this would have been discussed. Now, farmers and water commissioners are thinking about how to prepare for drier futures.
The haze returns
If yesterday seemed hazy to you, it was. Today will be as well, according to today's forecast. Otherwise sunny with a high near 80 degrees and east wind 5 to 10 mph becoming south in the morning. More of the same this weekend with breezy days hitting highs in the low 80s and evening lows in the 50s.