COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 1,151 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 159,119. Of those, the health department has designated 81,603 as recovered. Bernalillo County had 352 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 127 and San Juan County with 102. Santa Fe County had 74.

The state also announced 13 additional deaths, including a man in his 50s from Santa Fe County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There have now been 2,807 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 702 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Harding County became the first in the state to reach green yesterday under the state's county-level framework for assessing COVID-19. Union County met one of the two health metric thresholds—test positivity rate—and moves to the yellow stage. New Mexico's remaining 31 counties remain in the red, or most restrictive category, according to yesterday's biweekly update. Moreover, 20 counties' average daily per-capita rate of new cases rose over the last two weeks, while 17 counties had higher test positivity rates. And 16 counties—Santa Fe County among them—worsened in both metrics.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials will provide a COVID-19 update at 3 pm today, which will livestream on the governor's Facebook page and SFR's homepage.

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

NM prepares for protests

The US House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump yesterday on charges of "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the violent attack on the US Capitol last week that left five people dead. (New Mexico's representatives voted along party lines). In the wake of the attack, a recent FBI memo warns of potential armed protests in all 50 state capitals. In New Mexico, local, state and federal officials say they are taking precautionary measures; New Mexico Legislative Council Services Director Raul Burciaga said extra security will be implemented for the 60-day session starting Tuesday, and additional fencing was erected at the Roundhouse yesterday.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber yesterday released a statement that said he has been in "close contact" with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham "to ensure that we are taking the right steps here in Santa Fe to protect people and property in the event of any violence. To that end, the City of Santa Fe and the Chief of Police are closely coordinating their efforts with our federal and state law enforcement partners. I am closely monitoring the situation and taking whatever precautions are needed." In an accompanying statement, SFPD Chief Andrew Padilla said the department "has received and responded to a number of concerns from citizens regarding the events being seen locally and nationwide as President-Elect Biden's transition and Inauguration nears. The Santa Fe Police Department takes these matters and potential threats very seriously, and has been working with our Law Enforcement partners in the region to ensure that we are maintaining a safe presence in and around the Capitol area."

Coronavirus variant spotted in NM

The health department yesterday reported the state's first case of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant: a male in his 60s in Bernalillo County who traveled to the UK in December. According to a news release, he is currently recovering from very mild illness with no hospitalization required. SFR spoke recently to LANL scientist Bette Korber, who monitors the international GISAID genome database for mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19. The B.1.1.7 variant in the UK does appear to be "more fast-spreading," Korber says, while explaining that it will take time to conduct the experiments needed to truly understand the mutation's impact. Korber monitors the international GISAID database for viral mutations and, like other US scientists, hopes to see increased submissions of genomes in the US. Health Department Communications Director Matt Biber tells SFR via email that "DOH is in the process of uploading the variant sequence to the GISAID database. With regard to GISAID submissions, New Mexico is in the top 20% as a state (without normalizing for population). Considering our size and resources, DOH is performing strongly."

State announces $11 million settlement

Multiple New Mexico officials yesterday announced an $11 million settlement agreement related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that polluted the Animas and San Juan Rivers with toxic metals and acidic waste. According to a news release, the settlement is between the state and defendants Sunnyside Gold Corporation, which oversaw the construction of bulkheads that caused the spillage, as well as its parent companies Kinross Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc. The settlement includes $10 million for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, as well as $1 million to the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico's natural resources. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas and Environment Secretary James Kenney in separate statements lauded the settlement but said the Environment Protection Agency must also bear responsibility. "We have won this battle, but we will continue to fight as we hold the US EPA responsible for this terrible incident," Lujan Grisham said. New Mexico's lawsuit against the EPA and its contractors includes allegations of negligence, gross negligence, nuisance and trespass, as well as violations of federal environmental laws. New Mexico seeks cost recovery, damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees and is expected to go to trial in early 2022. The EPA settled a case with Utah over the spill last summer. The Navajo Nation also announced a settlement with the companies yesterday.

Gov releases legislative priorities

Following the Monday release of her proposed budget, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday announced her legislative priorities for the session starting Jan. 19. The governor's agenda includes modifying the Small Business Recovery Act of 2020 to provide more funding to small businesses, allowing alcohol delivery for restaurants and reforming the state's liquor licensure program. The governor also prioritized legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis; reforming the state procurement code to include preference for Native-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, woman-owned businesses; and funding the Opportunity Scholarship at $22 million. In addition to other economic and education reforms, Lujan Grisham endorsed measures to reduce transportation emissions; legislation addressing equity and antiracism; and a measure to reform predatory lending, reported in depth by SFR's Katherine Lewin and Jeff Proctor in this week's paper. "New Mexico will recover from this challenging year," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "The question is what kind of future we want to make for ourselves after we put these crises behind us. We still have the power to decide what we will become. And the time to decide is this session, this year. We can choose to return to the same-old, or we can set ourselves up to roar back to life after the pandemic, ready to break new ground and thrive."

Listen up

ICYMI, AMP Concerts recently premiered the final installation of its Postcards from Santa Fe series, featuring Native reggae band Innastate. Filmed at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, the video also features 24 artworks from the museum's current exhibits. You can find all the postcards on the AMP Facebook and YouTube pages, not to mention subscribe to the channel to try to help AMP meet its goal of 1,000 subscribers.

Fab Lab’s opens paid apprenticeship apps

Santa Fe-based Fab Lab Hub recently announced open applications for a US Deptartment of Labor registered apprenticeship in 3D Printing. According to a news release, the next cohort begins on March 1 with a $40,000 salary while training, along with free digital badge courses. The Fab Lab Hub apprenticeship includes free digital badge micro-certifications from IBM's IT offerings as well as digital badges from the New Collar Network in digital fabrication skills. Full-time employees start after completion of the apprenticeship in approximately one year at $60,000/year with full benefits. Preference will be given to applicants who have completed New Collar Network digital badges. "Apprenticeships are formal, tried and true pathways to engaging, well-paying careers without a college degree," Fab Lab Hub founder and CEO Sarah Boisvert said in a statement. "We are taking a training model that has had strong success and updating it for the 21st century."

Coalition outlines housing funding future

The Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition recently released a "Fund the Trust Fund" report outlining a path for the City of Santa Fe to sustainably fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. "We need dramatic steps towards housing equity from our local governments that include solutions that rise to the unprecedented scale of the housing problems we face," coalition co-founder and affordable housing expert Daniel Werwath said in a news release, noting that the AHTF, founded in 2005, "is our best opportunity." The report details AHTF's history and provides a roadmap for its funding, along with potential sources to capitalize the fund with at least $3 million in recurring funding. "Santa Fe is at a precipice," coalition Executive Director Michael Barrio said in a statement that noted ongoing economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and a potential surge of evictions when the moratorium on evictions expires. "We know that the trust fund is an excellent tool to address our housing issue and, now that we've got an outline for how that can happen, we are confident that we can work together with City leadership to get this important work done."

SPJ calls out Ronchetti

The Society for Professional Journalists' Rio Grande Chapter recently released a statement calling on failed New Mexico Republican US Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti to denounce "dangerous rhetoric against the press" following Ronchetti's return to KRQE as a meteorologist. Ronchetti's return, SPJ writes, "…in itself should raise red flags for anyone worried about political influence in newsrooms. But furthermore, throughout his campaign, Ronchetti proudly stated 'I stand with President Trump.'" The statement continues to pose a series of questions: "Does Ronchetti still stand with Trump? Does he applaud Trump calling the media 'The enemy of the people?' Does he denounce attacks on our democracy? Do politicians belong in the KRQE newsroom? Viewers don't know because neither Ronchetti nor KRQE have addressed these important questions." Finally, the statement "calls on Nexstar Media Group, KRQE and Mark Ronchetti to address these issues publicly, to denounce attacks on the press and to denounce the dangerous rhetoric of President Trump."

If you can’t beat ’em…

Sadly, the National Weather Service's website was down this morning…but Mark Ronchetti predicts a windy day with a high around 46 degrees.

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