COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 2,107 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 86,247; the health department has designated 29,568 cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 541 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 202 and McKinley County with 184. Santa Fe County had 91 new cases.
In its tracking of the virus, the New York Times currently lists eight New Mexico cities—Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Carlsbad, Farmington, Gallup, Hobbs, Roswell and Santa Fe—on its list of 20 metro areas where new cases are rising the fastest (on a population-adjusted basis).
The state also announced 28 additional deaths, including a woman in her 80s who had been hospitalized; there have now been 1,428 fatalities. As of yesterday, 871 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 25 more than the day prior, and 15% higher than one week ago.
Legislature passes $330 million relief package
In just one day, New Mexico lawmakers yesterday passed a $330 million package of COVID-19 relief aid that will benefit unemployed workers, businesses and others impacted by the pandemic and concomitant economic downturn. House Bill 1 specifically will provide $1,200 one-time payments to people who are unemployed; grants of up to $50,000 to small businesses; and up to $750 to some low-income households. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she will sign the bill—perhaps as early as today—which mostly uses $319 million in federal CARES Act funds that need to be spent by the end of the year. Both the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County also are running up against that deadline. To date, the city has not asked for reimbursement for any of the $17.5 million it was allocated, while Santa Fe County has used just $2.4 million of its $10.5 million. On Monday, both entities expanded eligibility requirements for the Small Business and Nonprofit Grant program in an effort to disburse additional funds. "We're doing everything within our capacity to get the money out the door," Liz Camacho, economic development and communications administrator for the city's Office of Economic Development, says.
NM creates agreements to avoid business closures
Yesterday, the state health and environment departments rolled out a new voluntary agreement intended to help essential businesses such as grocery stores avoid COVID-19-related closures. Under a protocol introduced last month, establishments with at least two rapid responses within 14 days for employees testing positive for COVID-19 appear on a daily watchlist; those with four or more can be closed for 14 days. Under the new agreement, businesses that agree to conduct regular COVID-19 testing for staff and help the health department with contact tracing won't have positive cases discovered during the process counted toward closure. "By incentivizing businesses to participate in a regular surveillance testing program, we are keeping New Mexicans safe, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and preventing additional closures of essential businesses," Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. Environment department spokeswoman Maddy Hayden tells SFR the state has had "a couple of businesses indicate they will be participating and so we definitely are expecting to get agreements." As of yesterday, the state's watchlist contained 24 Santa Fe businesses, including the Albertsons on Zafarano and the Food King—each with two rapid responses—and Whole Foods with four. Smith's Food and Drug on Cerrillos Road and the Walmart Supercenter were both closed on Nov. 18 and are now slated to reopen Dec. 2.
Report excoriates Spaceport
The state Auditor's Office yesterday released a highly critical report on New Mexico's Spaceport America, detailing improper procurement, excessive travel spending and a lack of financial oversight by the Spaceport Authority. In a news release on the report, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes, who became chair of the Spaceport Authority Board in May of 2020, said the state is already acting on key findings from the report, which overall found "a severe breakdown of internal controls that resulted in possible waste and abuse of taxpayer funds." Keyes became aware of problems at the beginning of the year, and the state placed former Spaceport CEO Daniel Hicks on administrative leave after a formal whistleblower complaint was filed in June. Shortly thereafter, the state hired The McHard Firm to conduct the independent review. McHard's report concludes there is evidence Hicks violated administrative and criminal statues and recommends the case be turned over to law enforcement. It also finds that former chief financial officer Zach De Gregorio, who filed the initial complaint, "participated in many of the violations" and also should be investigated.
Indigenous defendants in obelisk case appear in court
The only two Indigenous women charged in the destruction of the obelisk on the Plaza Oct. 12, mother and daughter Melissa Rose and Lauren Straily, filed into the Santa Fe County Magistrate court yesterday morning to face a handful of felony and misdemeanor charges. Judge John Rysanek allowed the women to stay out of jail on their own recognizance in advance of their Dec. 11 arraignments, at which they'll face charges of criminal damage to property (over $1,000); conspiracy to commit criminal damage; unlawful assembly; criminal trespass; resisting, evading or obstructing an officer; and unauthorized graffiti (over $1,000). The women's lawyers released a joint statement critical of the city's failure to act in advance of the obelisk's destruction and of the Santa Fe Police Department for making "scapegoats" out of the six people charged.
Props to the playwriting students at Central New Mexico Community College, who turned to radio theater when the pandemic made regular theater a no-go. Instructor Leonard Madrid, who works at Albuquerque's Blackout Theater Company, shepherded the project. "It's like we're going back in time," Madrid tells KRQE. "I think what happens is we tend to misinterpret what a podcast is and forget that there's a whole realm of fictional podcasts out there, so this fits in perfectly and tends to be a nod to those old radio shows." Sounds good to us. You'll find the productions—science fiction, romance, horror and other genres—here.
Cooking with Dr. Scrase
After New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase mentioned his green chile piñon stuffing recipe during last week's COVID-19 briefing, a constituent requested the recipe. SFR also received a copy, which we share just in time for your stay-at-home Thanksgiving meal. Scrase writes that he has been preparing this recipe—which he says was adapted almost word for word from The Joy of Cooking—annually at Thanksgiving for at least 40 years. He adapted it to New Mexico when he moved here in 1998 by incorporating spicy pork sausage, hot green chile and the piñon nuts. "It is so popular with my family that I make a double recipe so that the leftovers can be consumed for another week," he writes. "And while I always use hot green chile and spicy pork sausage, you can use milder versions if you like (as long as you are not worried that some may see you as an inauthentic New Mexican as a result)."
Good coffee, good cause
O'Hori's Coffee decided to stay open from 9 am to 2 pm on Thanksgiving "in recognition of the Indigenous people of greater North America in our community and our staff," the store writes in a news release. Ohori's will donate 30% of all sales in the store and online to the Santa Fe Indigenous Center and Tewa Women United. "Ohori's communal response to these times is one of kinship between all voices. We recognize the need for unity, reciprocity, and recognition of the positive movements to decolonize our shared cultural narrative. May this day, and every day, be a day of gratitude and respect for the land we live on and the unique people that create this community." Needless to say, wear a mask if you stop by (we are partial to their mochas).
Lights, camera, Plaza
While this year's holiday celebrations will be altered in myriad ways, come Friday, Santa Fe will start to look a lot like Christmas. That's because the City of Santa Fe will press on with the time-honored tradition of the Plaza lighting event, at which hundreds gather to drink hot chocolate, hear festive music and, most importantly, count down to the unveiling of 10,000 lights festooning the entire area. Clearly, no one will gather bodily this Friday, but the show will go on. The Holiday Plaza Lighting will take place live on the city's YouTube page at approximately 5:15 pm and continue streaming until 7:30 pm. From 5:30 to 8:45 pm, the city will host a "Cruise By" option for anyone who wants to see the lights in person, and will allow vehicles to drive by three sides of the Plaza. Vehicles will enter on W. San Francisco, turn left on Old Santa Fe Trail, and then wave to Mr. and Mrs. Claus as they exit Palace Avenue.
You’re getting warmer
Today will be sunny with a high near 49 degrees and north wind around 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon. As for Thanksgiving, another sunny day with a high temperature of 52 degrees and north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon. As for Friday, we might just see some more rain and snow, but not much of either.
Thanks for reading! The Word already took advantage of the free airings of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on Apple TV+ (it seems to be free through Friday) and then read this Pop Culture essay that examines the controversy over whether Snoopy's sidekick Woodstock is a cannibal. Have a great and safe holiday! The Word returns Friday.