COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 200 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 180,761. The health department has designated 121,606 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 65 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 21 cases and San Juan County with 20. Santa Fe County had two new cases.

The state also announced nine additional deaths, including one from Santa Fe County: A man in his 70s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There have now been 3,538 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 286 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

While COVID-19 variants such as the ones first identified in the UK and South Africa have prompted concerns in the US, scientists have identified other variants that may have originated here and could possibly also be growing more contagious. Both the New York Times and CNN examine a preprint study of seven such examples, all with similar mutations. Assistant Professor at the Center for Global Health at University of New Mexico Daryl Domman, who co-authored the study, says he and colleagues identified one such variant from New Mexico as part of their genetic sequencing work. According to the study, one particular variant, first detected in the US in October, rose to represent 27.8% and 11.3% of all SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced from Louisiana and New Mexico between Dec. 1 and Jan. 19.

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.

The case of the missing statue

Last June, in the midst of growing tensions over historical monuments, Santa Fe city workers removed a statue of Don Diego de Vargas from downtown Cathedral Park and relocated it to a safe location. Or, as it turns out, someone's backyard. Former City Councilor Ron Trujillo says he was notified of the statue's location, went to see it and then sent a photograph to the Santa Fe New Mexican. Trujillo would not provide the specific address where the statue is, but city spokesman Dave Herndon says it's a private home and business where the statue has been stored since its removal from public view. As for why public property is in a private backyard, Herndon said both Mayor Alan Webber and City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill were misinformed about where the de Vargas statue had been taken. Trujillo, who is president of the Caballeros de Vargas organization, which, he says, donated the statue to the city, would now like to talk with Webber about having it returned.

Cannabis bill passes first committee

House Bill 12, the Cannabis Regulation Act, passed its first committee yesterday, the House Health and Human Services, on a 7-4 vote, and now heads to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee. As SFR reported last week, several competing bills in this year's session would legalize recreational marijuana. HB12, sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez and Deborah A. Armstrong, along with Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, is similar to last year's House-passed bill crafted by a governor-appointed task force, has the support of the Drug Policy Alliance and incorporates social justice and equity measures. "Legalizing cannabis in New Mexico will increase consumer safety by bringing strict regulations to the industry, and will boost our economy by generating tax dollars and creating jobs," Martínez said in a statement. "Economic projections indicate that recreational cannabis sales in New Mexico could total as much as $318 million in the first year alone, creating over 11,000 new jobs." To keep up with all the cannabis-related news, check out the most recent edition of SFR's Leaf Brief.

State Supreme Court details gov’s authority in pandemic

The governor and the health department are allowed to close or restrict businesses via an emergency public health order. So says the state Supreme Court in a unanimous written opinion issued yesterday. The opinion provides the legal reasoning for a decision issued orally from the bench last August, which upheld a ban on indoor dining the state had imposed a month prior as COVID-19 cases increased in the state. The case stemmed from the governor's July 13 public health order that curtailed indoor dining. Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Raymond L. Romero in Eddy County issued a temporary restraining order against that order, which the state Supreme Court then stayed at the request of the governor's administration. Yesterday's opinion, written by retired Justice Judith K. Nakamura, concludes that "New Mexico has not entered a 'new normal,' nor do the temporary emergency orders constitute 'long-term policy' decisions. New Mexico remains in a state of emergency." However, a special concurring opinion written by Justice David K. Thomson notes his "…concern that the broad and vague statutes that grant emergency powers to the Governor combined with the deference given to the executive to act in times of emergency may pose potential long-term consequences to our system of checks and balances."

Listen up

SFR's Reported podcast continues its historical journey with a second episode on New Mexico's history that starts in 1912 when New Mexico became the 47th state that year. From there, Episode 9 of Season 4 takes a look at the state's first three governors, corruption in Santa Fe and our last big pandemic: the Spanish influenza of 1918. Host Katherine Lewin talks about these and other important milestones, along with Santa Fe Community College Assistant Professor of History Steve Martinez.

Haaland in the spotlight

Republican opposition to New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland's appointment as Interior Secretary is growing, the Washington Post says, and she's on a "collision course" with the oil industry, according to the Wall Street Journal. Haaland's support for of the Green New Deal and her opposition to fracking on public lands rank among the reasons leaders from fossil-fuel producing states say they're concerned. "To have a nominee who has taken the most radical positions, supports the most radical policies on natural resources is unprecedented," Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., tells the WSJ. "A lot of our Western states…depend on the revenue that comes out of those federal lands to fund governments." The Senate Energy committee hasn't set a date yet for Haaland's confirmation hearing; Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on that committee, also recently issued a statement critical of Haaland's stances on public lands. Yet, as the Washington Post points out, Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, has represented a Western oil-producing state in Congress. Allies such as Data for Progress Vice President of Policy and Strategy Julian Brave NoiseCat tells the Post: "She's representative of the first people of the West," and that Republican opposition is "out of touch with the facts and designed to score political points."

Exhibit displays myriad New Mexicans

Internationally known artist Shirin Neshat writes for CNN about her newest show, "Land of Dreams," exhibiting at the Gladstone Gallery in New York through Feb. 27 with an accompanying online display here. For the work, Neshat traveled throughout New Mexico, she writes, "photographing and collecting accounts of dreams from diverse communities of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans and Anglo Americans. Later the translations and interpretations of these characters' dreams were inscribed on their images in Farsi calligraphy. I've always returned to calligraphy because its visual impact transcends translation. Each mark represents an idea of beauty and spirituality which contradicts political inflammation." Neshat left her homeland of Iran, living, she says, in "self-imposed exile." "Land of Dreams" includes videos and more than 100 photographs "capturing portraits of Americans living in the country's Southwest, from different ethnic and economic backgrounds." The work, she says, "is unique in the way that it shows a nomadic perspective, the gaze of an artist who is always navigating between cultures that she doesn't completely belong to anymore."

Snow day

Today will bring more snow showers—a 90% chance of them—but primarily before 8 am, with some thunder also possible. Today's high temperature will be slightly higher than yesterday: 34 degrees with a southwest wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon. A slight chance (20%) for snow tonight before 8 pm and then another possibility after 11 pm. Small chance of snow continuing tomorrow and tomorrow night, after which sunny days should resume, albeit cold ones.

Thanks for reading! The Word has read George Eliot's Middlemarch at least twice, but this essay on its hidden narrative of contagion means she will probably read it a third time.