COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 1,259 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 65,454. Bernalillo County had 374 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 203 and Santa Fe County with 91.
The state also announced 21 additional deaths yesterday; there have now been 1,236 fatalities. The health department has implemented a new system for reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations, using data received daily from New Mexico hospitals versus information gathered from case investigators and contact tracers. Under the new system, as of yesterday, 738 people were hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19 (the day prior reported 506 under the prior system).
As New Mexico began a two-week public health order with more stringent conditions, doctors from the University of New Mexico Health, Presbyterian and Lovelace Health System yesterday reinforced Gov. Michelle Lujan's call last week for New Mexicans to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings with extended family or anyone outside the household. Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval noted that all hospitals continue to see increasing numbers of patients and have activated their "surge plans," created last spring, which contain contingencies should hospitals no longer have adequate space or staff to treat all patients. All three doctors spoke of the increasing strain the surge is placing on healthcare workers and resources.
The environment department's daily "watchlist" yesterday included 217 New Mexico establishments that have had more than two rapid responses for COVID-19 cases among employees within the last 14 days—a 38% increase from one week ago. That list includes 17 Santa Fe locations, three of which have been temporarily closed by the state following four or more rapid responses in 14 days: Chaparral Materials Inc., Ranch House and Target. Several others may now qualify for closure, including the Walmart Supercenter and the Smith's at 2308 Cerrillos Road. The National Retail Federation last week filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the state seeking more information on how the criteria had been set for the rapid response closure protocols, which were implemented in October, saying "retailers across the state need and deserve a transparent process for re-opening and maintaining business operations." Soon, public schools will also be integrated onto the watchlist, according to Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, who held a news conference yesterday in which he stressed the criticality of the coming two weeks on public schools' ability to continue providing some form of in-person learning.
City creates disaster relief fund
Yesterday, the City of Santa Fe announced a new $2 million "emergency disaster relief fund," via its CONNECT program, to provide one-time cash payments to residents who have suffered the greatest financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say they have partnered with local groups Somos Un Pueblo Unido and Chainbreaker Collective to help identify people in need. "There are many families in Santa Fe who have been surviving on next to nothing since summer," Director of Community Services Kyra Ochoa says. "This money is intended to go to the people that have been scraping it together somehow, especially people with children." Specifically, the new fund will distribute one-time payments of $750 to workers with children who didn't receive federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits earlier this year, as well as to people who did not receive unemployment benefits or sick leave when their workplaces were shut down temporarily in response to the pandemic.
In response to the new public health order, Virgin Galactic announced yesterday it would be delaying the first human space flight from New Mexico that was scheduled to happen between Nov. 19-23. "With the health and safety of our team members in mind, and in accordance with the recent direction from the New Mexico Department of Health, we will be minimizing our New Mexico operations to the greatest degree possible," Virgin CEO Michael Colglazier said in a news release. The flight, as originally announced, would have been a precursor to founder Richard Branson's flight next year. Meanwhile, Spaceport America announced yesterday that Stratodynamics Inc., along with University of Kentucky research collaborators, will conduct a multi-flight campaign along with engineers from autopilot developer UAVOS at Spaceport America later this year. According to a news release, the campaign is the culmination of an experimental NASA Flight Opportunities project testing a forward sensing turbulence detector that could improve safety and comfort in commercial aviation.
Arizona voters legalized marijuana in the Nov. 3 general election, which means yet another state bordering New Mexico sells cannabis. What will that mean for New Mexico, where many expect lawmakers to re-up the prospect of legal recreational marijuana in the 2021 legislative session? That's the issue Growing Forward hosts Andy Lyman and Megan Kamerick probe in a special episode of the podcast in which they speak to Arizona Republic reporter Andrew Oxford. Lyman and Kamerick follow up on the topic in the show's most recent episode, which examines how New Mexico might approach testing and regulation of legal weed through the lens of its medical marijuana program. Speaking of which, the state's medical cannabis advisory board voted yesterday to double the patient purchase limit to 15 ounces over 90 days, but it remains unclear if the incoming new health secretary will approve that decision, or if the state has enough cannabis to support the new amounts.
Ready to serve
While it remains unknown exactly when the governor might call lawmakers into a special session to discuss COVID-19 assistance for businesses and families (not to mention where and how the Legislature will meet next year), here's one sure fact: Incoming state Rep. Roger Montoya, a Democrat who won the District 40 seat serving Rio Arriba, Colfax, Mora and San Miguel counties, is ready. SFR spoke with Montoya about his contentious race, his history of championing the underserved and his plans for continuing to do so when he takes his place at the Roundhouse (or wherever): "I'm an altruistic, active participant in change," Montoya says. "And I have always held aspirations that we have to always look to the very best we can be. Otherwise, why work towards anything? The bar has to be lifted, not unrealistically, but incrementally so that we are constantly on a trajectory forward."
Green chile forever
Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson recently engaged in some heavy food talk with Travel + Leisure magazine in advance of his cookbook, Food Between Friends, co-authored with recipe developer Julie Tanous, which publishes in March, 2021 (born from the duo's recipe website). While one of Ferguson's most memorable food vacations was in Mexico City, Ferguson himself grew up in New Mexico, where, he notes, "everything has green chile on it—it's one of my favorite ingredients to work with. But it's very different from Mexican food." Truer words. Ferguson, in fact, recently cooked up a vegan green chile cheeseburger as part of his partnership with plant-based brand OZO, and rumor has it Hatch Green Chile Mac and Cheese, among other local delicacies, feature in the cookbook.
Sweeping the clouds away
Thanks for reading! The Word voted for Xing Fu (shing-fu) 幸福, which is Mandarin Chinese for "happy and prosperous," in the Smithsonian Zoo's panda-naming competition. Voting continues through Nov. 20.