COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 316 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 30,947. Cases in Bernalillo County surged with 138 new ones (for comparison, the county had 51 new cases on Monday). The second highest number was in Doña Ana County, which had 37, followed by Eddy County with 23. Santa Fe County had 10 new cases.
The environment department's weekly rapid-response assessment reported 419 rapid-responses for the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 4. That was 171 more than the week prior, with Santa Fe County accounting for 37 of them.
There were no additional deaths yesterday, leaving the total number of fatalities at 894. As of yesterday, 110 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 13 more than Monday and 21 more than last Friday. Indeed, hospitalizations, after plateauing, have started to rise, according to the state's weekly modeling report, which also indicates a decline in deaths following a spike during the week of Sept. 14-20.
Early voting starts with lines and confusion
Some confusion over absentee voting led to delays yesterday as early in-person voting for the Nov. 3 general election kicked off in New Mexico. As SFR reports today, nearly 40% of Santa Fe County voters have requested an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 general election. However, a 2019 change to state law allows voters who have requested an absentee ballot to vote in person if they sign an affidavit before voting. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Santa Fe's voting machines yesterday were not initially programmed to allow voters to do this, which led to lines at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. In Roosevelt and Curry counties, clerks were unaware of the law change and thus unprepared for voters to change their minds about how they voted, resulting in some voters being turned away. "We didn't know that the law changed, or I wasn't aware that it changed in 2019, and that's just my doing," Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Clerk Nathalia Baca said.
Feds will monitor NM elections
As voting kicks off, the FBI has set up a command post in Albuquerque to monitor potential problems with the election, and has assigned a federal prosecutor to address them. Both agencies, along with New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, announced the new post earlier this week, saying it will be up and running by election day and staffed 24/7. The move comes as concerns mount across the country about legal challenges and problems at the polls and thereafter. "The American people expect and deserve fair, open, and honest elections that are free of interference," Special Agent in Charge James Langenberg said in a statement, which also notes that while no foreign government has "attempted to tamper" with the US voting system, "everyone must remain vigilant in protecting our voting infrastructure." Toulouse Oliver, also in a statement, said she appreciated the opportunity to tell voters about the efforts election officials are taking here to protect "the integrity" of the upcoming election: "Especially as we get closer to the General Election, New Mexicans should be extra vigilant about the election information they encounter and rely on state and local election officials for trusted information about voting," she said.
Santa Fe homeless population increasing
Although no one seems to have exact numbers, social service officials say the number of people living with homelessness is rising in Santa Fe. Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place Executive Director Joe Jordan-Berenis tells the Albuquerque Journal 144 new people sought services at the shelter over the past three months. And the city's Community Services Director Kyra Ochoa says the Coalition to End Homelessness' estimate of Santa Fe's homeless population at 300 is an undercount; she estimates it could be as high as 1,000, noting that service providers all believe there has been an increase. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing job loss likely is driving the expansion. Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Hank Hughes, a Santa Fe County commissioner, compared it to the area's last surge in homelessness following the 2008 recession. "I suspect that it's going to be just as bad as what we had in around 2009," he said. "People who used to be able to hold things together…some of them are falling into homelessness."
In Episode 4 of Santa Fe Art Institute's Tilt podcast, former SFAI residents Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Balitronica Gomez of interdisciplinary performance troupe La Pocha Nostra offer samplings of how they have creatively reinvented their practice during the pandemic. Both share poetic, political and philosophical reflections of our times, addressing what it means to be an American artist during lockdown; where the border lies between despair and hope; and what radical democracy is and how can we all participate.
At least for the time being, the 2020 census deadline is Oct. 31 (pending litigation). Which means it's not too late to fill out your census and it's not too late to participate in Axle Contemporary's "Be Counted" initiative aimed at increasing participating both in the census and voting. Simply print out any of the artist-donated images on the site and then tape them in your car window, to the side of your building, send them in emails, share on your social media etc. You can also purchase yard signs here. We just downloaded images by Michael Sumner (#2) and Judy Tuwaletstiwa's for our email, but they are all pretty great.
Trick or Treat…not
Unsurprisingly, a night of visiting strangers and giving/receiving candy, even while masked, doesn't rank as a safe Halloween idea. Other verboten activities, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include: "Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots" (who does this?) and "Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming." Also ixnay on attending crowded indoor costume contest parties and "traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19″ (the last one sounds like a good plot for a horror movie, though). So what can one do, you might ask? Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office issued a list of activities that don't carry potentially fatal outcomes such as: pumpkin carving, scavenger hunts, virtual costume contests and watching Halloween movies at home alone with your cat (the news release actually suggested watching with the people with whom you already live, but we adapted it to be more on point). You can find more ideas, along with Halloween recipes and craft ideas on Together New Mexico's new Halloween-themed site.
Whichever way the haze blows
Today's forecast calls for more widespread haze, but will also be sunny, with a high near 84 degrees and north wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. An inquisitive reader of this newsletter asked for more info on the haze's source, which we sought out yesterday. According to the environment department's Air Quality Bureau: "It's hard to pinpoint exactly which fires are generating the smoke that people are seeing; likely a combination of CA, UT, AZ and CO, depending on the wind." The department also recommended https://fire.airnow.gov to see the location of fires around the country, air quality data and smoke plumes.
Thanks for reading! The Word keeps thinking she's become inured to shocking news events, but nope, she has not…RIP, Eddie Van Halen.