COVID-19 by the numbers
New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 281 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 181,332. The health department has designated 125,064 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 120 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 49 and San Juan County with 22. Santa Fe County had 10 new cases.
The state also announced 12 additional deaths; there have now been 3,562 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 280 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
As New Mexico approaches the one-year mark for the state's first cases, SFR spoke with Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase about the last 12 months of the pandemic and how the state has fared. "When we look at the pandemic, we think of the number of cases and hospitalizations and all that," Scrase says, "but I think mainly of the fact that people in high-income census tracts had one quarter the chance of getting COVID as people in low-income census tracts."
NM expects more vaccine next week
New Mexico will receive 72,510 vaccine doses next week, a close to 7% increase over the week prior, Health Secretary-Designate Dr. Tracie Collins said yesterday during a joint news conference with Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase. The state has also increased by 22% from two weeks ago the number of doses it is administering each day, and doubled the number of second doses given. As of yesterday, more than 450,000 doses have been administered, 99% of the amount the state has received. Still, supply lags significantly behind demand, although the state anticipates doses of a new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson—which has submitted its application for emergency approval to the Food and Drug Administration—perhaps in March. Collins said she envisions doses of that vaccine would be targeted to more remote areas of the state. "Because of what we know at this point about Johnson & Johnson and how you can transport it, you don't have as many restrictions, the shelf life is good, it's one shot, we're looking at trying to get that out to remote areas," Collins said. She also noted that the health department, which recently made public some data about vaccine administration by ethnic groups, will be increasing its focus on providing vaccines to populations hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. "Basically we're working to address equity in the state and we need to keep looking at the numbers and evaluating what are the factors that are influencing vaccine uptake, vaccine access," she said.
State finances improve
New projections from state economists forecast that recurring state revenues for fiscal year 2021 will decline 8.5% from last year—a $192.1 million improvement over December's estimates. The state's economic recovery, like the rest of the country's, remains largely tied to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, with enhanced outlooks reflecting the rollout of viable vaccines. Improved oil and gas revenue factor notably in New Mexico, playing a 75% role in the increase in expected general fund revenues. "It is important to note that this is primarily due to market forces of recovering oil and gas prices as well as production levels in the fourth quarter of 2020 that did not decline as previously expected and actually demonstrated considerable growth above the third quarter," the LFC report reads. Nonetheless, myriad unknowns remain for the state budget, including the impact of COVID-19 variants on the pandemic's trajectory; the federal moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands; and the delayed federal stimulus package. Still, the state has a significant cash cushion, with an expected $2.7 billion in cash reserves at the end of the fiscal year. "We have a lot of money," State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said. "We just need to proceed with caution."
Retired judge files complaint against Rep. Egolf
Former 11th Judicial District Court Judge Sandra Price filed a complaint last week with the New Mexico Ethics Commission against House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, alleging Egolf, a lawyer, stands to benefit from the proposed Civil Rights Act recently passed by the state House and now winding its way through the Senate. The bill would allow individuals to sue government agencies for violations of their civil rights. Because Egolf, a lawyer, has had prior civil rights cases, Price said he stands to benefit and, moreover, failed to disclose what the complaint characterizes as a conflict. Egolf described the complaint as "baseless" and said it was "clearly designed to distract me from my work and to discourage me from fighting for the people of New Mexico." His attorney, Andrew Schultz, said House Bill 4 creates a new type of potential litigation and, thus "…to make any claim that any lawyer will profit from this is entirely speculative and hypothetical."
Catch up on the latest episodes from the Santa Fe Art Institute's Tilt podcast, which is exploring New Mexico and Santa Fe's history in its nine-part "Unsettled" series. In part 6, "Mud," Alicia Inez Guzmán and Christian Gering consider the history of adobe architecture in New Mexico, and its appropriation for tourism in Santa Fe. In part 7, "Colores Sospechos 1," Guzmán, Gering and SFI Story Maps fellow Diego Medina examine the caste system introduced by Spaniards after they arrived in the Americas.
Social distancing impacted some of the winning subjects of SFR's 2021 photo contest. Case in point: Megan and Christal Goddard, who appear in the 1st place photograph from Logan Monroe, had originally intended to wed in front of 60 guests in Washington State. Instead, they called just two witnesses and took their vows on the isolated ivory gypsum at White Sands National Park, donning post-nuptial gas masks to mark the occasion. The resultant stunning image captures both sempiternal and fleeting tones and emotions. You can catch all the winners in this week's print and online editions, and marshal a socially distant excursion to view them at the Santa Fe Outlet Mall in the window of Unit 116, 10 am to 6 pm Monday to Saturday and 11 am to 6 pm on Sundays through March 18. You can purchase prints and posters online, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting SFR's nonprofit arm, the New Mexico Fund for Public Interest Journalism.
Landing on Mars
Los Alamos National Laboratory will host a free online after-party at 6 pm tonight to celebrate the landing of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars and share information regarding the lab's role in the mission. Registration is required for the event, which will feature presentations by more than a dozen LANL scientists and engineers who helped develop SuperCam, the rock-vaporizing laser that will study the Martian surface for signs of past life, and SHERLOC, the instrument that will search for organics and minerals on Mars. You can also watch the actual landing and hear commentary via NASA TV, which looks as though it will happen at approximately 12:15 pm MST. Learn more about the mission via NASA here, listen to LANL's podcast on its tech here, and read SFR's interview with LANL scientist Jackie Lopez-Barlow here.
Looks like it's done snowing, but don't expect that snow to melt too quickly: Today's weather forecast calls for patchy freezing fog before 8 am, after which it will become partly sunny, but with a high reaching only 30 degrees and a southeast wind around 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Tonight: Look for a low around 11 degrees with wind chill values as low as -3.
Thanks for reading! The Word sought out winter/snow poems this morning.