COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 308 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 181,060. The health department has designated 123,507 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 74 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 52 and Sandoval County with 34. Santa Fe County had eight new cases.
The state also announced 12 additional deaths, including one from Santa Fe County: a woman in her 60s who had been hospitalized. There have now been 129 fatalities in Santa Fe County and 3,550 statewide. As of yesterday, 290 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
Native Americans lead in population for vaccines
Of the nearly 442,000 vaccines administered so far in New Mexico, Native Americans have had the highest percentage of vaccines for any identified group, according to new data on the health department's vaccine dashboard. The dashboard reports that 22.1% of the state's 145,589 Native Americans have been partially vaccinated and 8.9% have been fully vaccinated. The state's most recent epidemiology report on COVID-19 demographics also shows Native Americans have had the highest case and mortality rates for COVID-19 since the pandemic's inception. For Hispanics or Latinos, the largest population in the state at 780,908, just 12% have been partially vaccinated and only 5.7% fully. Hispanics have accounted for the second highest case and death rates by population. New Mexico's Black population also has had a low percent of vaccinations: just 9% have had one vaccination and 4.5% have had both. For whites, the second highest population group at 686,030, 17.1% have been partially vaccinated and 7.8% have had both shots.
State House passes Civil Rights Act
New Mexico's House of Representatives yesterday passed on a 39-29 vote the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, House Bill 4, which now heads to the state Senate. The proposed bill, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Reps. Georgene Louis (Acoma Pueblo) and Patricia Roybal Caballero, both Democrats from Albuquerque, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, puts forward several changes partially aimed at law enforcement, some of which stalled out in previous sessions. These include a provision eliminating qualified immunity in a civil suit as a defense for police or anyone operating under "the authority of a public body." Egolf said in a statement that lawmakers have "…taken to heart the feedback from stakeholders and made significant changes that directly address their concerns. I am confident that the current version of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act strikes the right balance to hold government accountable for misconduct and secure the rights contained in our New Mexico Bill of Rights." The latest version of the bill clarifies that no individual teacher, law enforcement officer or other public employee can be sued and holds government agencies solely accountable. The bill also places a $2 million cap, including attorney's fees, on judgements under the act. "Right now, it is a David vs. Goliath story for New Mexicans who've had their civil rights violated by government misconduct," Louis said in a statement. "Under the New Mexico Bill of Rights citizens are promised equality, freedom and the right to enjoy life and pursue happiness, no matter their race or background."
Mayor on de Vargas statue: “I was misled”
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber says he was "misled" about the relocation of a statue of Don Diego de Vargas after it was removed from Cathedral Park last June and reportedly relocated to private property. In a statement issued yesterday, Webber says when the statue was removed "I was assured by the responsible department head that the statue was taken to safe keeping at a City facility. I learned yesterday I was misled. The statue has been safe; however, it wasn't in the City's hands. This should not have happened. I'm upset at this development." On the bright side, he notes, the brouhaha led to a meeting between himself, former City Councilor Ron Trujillo, president of the Caballeros de Vargas; the group's committee chairman, Manuel Garcia; and City Councilor Chris Rivera to discuss "next steps. We all agreed that the safety and well-being of the statue is of paramount importance. We also agreed to continue talking and working together to protect the statue, which represents an integral part of the City's history and culture."
And speaking of monuments, history and culture, earlier this week, the City Council's Finance Committee approved a $62,000 budget adjustment that will pay for a consultant to steer the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth community discussions approved by the City Council last month. According to a city news release, the consultant "will have experience in cultural competency, particularly with the communities of Northern New Mexico" and work with the city's "Project Team to implement a robust engagement process and will provide a final report with recommendations gained from community input." The resolution creating the CHART proposal notes it grew out of "the political and cultural divisions" as manifest through "the destruction of the Soldier's Monument…on the Plaza, the removal of the Don Diego de Vargas statue from Cathedral Park…and the boarding up of the Kit Carson memorial." The city has launched a CHART-dedicated web portal, which it says will include updates on the CHART progress.
Several bills in this year's legislative session aim to strengthen New Mexico's environmental policies. In the most recent edition of Your New Mexico Government, environmental journalist Laura Paskus discusses the Clean Water Act, SB 86, which proposes regulations for oil and gas companies regarding produced water, and the Climate Solutions Act: HB 9. Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between SFR, KUNM and New Mexico PBS.
Housing Q & A
Got questions about housing in Santa Fe? You're in luck. The Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition will host a free live Ask Me Anything event today at 5 pm (join on Zoom here) during which New Mexico Interfaith Housing Executive Director Daniel Werwath and Coalition Executive Director Michael Barrio will address questions about all things housing, affordable housing approaches, land use regulation and real estate economics. The Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition also has launched The Struggle is Real (SIR) Project, which will offer stipends up to $1,500 for "innovative, informative and impactful projects that highlight and demand adequate funding" for Santa Fe's housing needs, SFAC is looking for projects that "inspire action" and potentially "outline innovative solutions to the housing crisis in Santa Fe." Deadline to apply is March 1—learn more here.
Up to bat
Two New Mexico State University scientists are among recipients of a $200,000 National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant they plan to use to study whether New Mexico bats can be infected with COVID-19. "I've been working a long time on spillback of pathogens," Kathryn Hanley, NMSU regents professor of biology and co-principal investigator of the project, says in an NMSU news release. "We've seen SARS-COV-2 in bats, dogs, cats, lions, tigers and even mink. Once a virus gets back into wildlife, it's hard to find a treatment. SARS-COV-2 can get back into wildlife. My concern is bats." NMSU Assistant Professor of biology Teri Orr and University of Wisconsin professor Tony Goldberg also will work on the study, which includes several hypotheses the scientists intend to test, including whether a bat species with a high prevalence and diversity of native coronaviruses may be resistant to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
So, it snowed a bit yesterday—certainly more than the National Weather Service had indicated it would. Some say 6 to 10 inches! According to KOAT news, the snow was "quite beautiful actually" and, despite being "waist deep" in places (not pictured in actual newscast), people were walking around as if it were "any other day." The world will likely keep turning today, as well, when forecasts call for a chance of snow showers before 8 am, with more chances after 11 am (40%). Some thunder is also possible. Chances for snow decrease to 30% this evening, primarily before 11 pm. The sun will come out tomorrow. As for the roads, the City of Santa Fe says it's been clearing them according to its priority plan. The city, at least, is on a two-hour delay.