COVID-19 by the numbers
The state also announced 25 additional deaths, with 11 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday. Those deaths included two from Santa Fe County: a man in his 60s with underlying conditions on Saturday, and a man in his 70s with underlying conditions on Sunday. There have now been 3,624 deaths statewide. As of yesterday, 242 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
Senate confirms Collins as health secretary
Following an unanimous positive recommendation from the state Senate Rules committee on Friday, the full Senate confirmed Dr. Tracie Collins, 38-1, as New Mexico's new health secretary. Appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in November, Collins, a vascular specialist, came to the state from the University of New Mexico, where she served as dean of the College of Population Health. Prior to that, she served as chair of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Kansas, where she also held positions as the Kansas Health Foundation distinguished professor of public health and as a professor of internal medicine. "I just swell with pride when I see not just the number of cases coming down as steadily as they've been over the last month and a half but the incredible effectiveness of our vaccination program," Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said during the Rules hearing.
Senate Majority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, cast the sole no vote against Collins during the Senate vote, citing the canceled vaccination clinic for Rio Rancho educators in his district, as well as a lack of response from the health department to letters he said he sent regarding both that cancellation and concerns he had about vaccination numbers in Sandoval County. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, speaking in support of Collins, acknowledged Brandt's concerns about communication, noting "I do want to make sure when legislators have questions, they get addressed," but added "I don't want that to take away from the incredible person who is before us today because I think her qualifications are phenomenal and thank goodness for all of us in this state that someone of this caliber would be willing to step up to what has to be the toughest cabinet spot there is."
Santa Fe Schools reopen today—with and without teachers
All of Santa Fe Public Schools will reopen their doors today, although a few won't have any teachers on site. As of Friday, at least one teacher had volunteered to return to all but five of the district's 28 schools: Tesuque Elementary, Salazar Elementary, Piñon Elementary, Kearny Elementary and E.J. Martinez Elementary. At those schools, Superintendent Veronica García told administrators during last Thursday's school board meeting, "Leadership will have to make it work and we're going to try to figure out how to support you." School will look different to students regardless of where they attend. In some cases, "cyber cafes" will provide students internet access, technology and adult support. In others, where teachers are available, students will attend in-person lessons but won't see all their classmates. García tells SFR the district wanted to "make sure kids have social emotional support," even if the day-to-day looks different from what students expected. Even with only a third of the district's 12,000 students wanting to return, close to half are on a waiting list pending staffing.
Recovery, abortion-ban repeal head to Gov’s desk
As of Friday, two significant bills were headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's desk. House Bill 11, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, provides $200 million in grants to small businesses to help hire or rehire employees. "Since the first day of the session, House Democrats have been focused on one thing—recovery, recovery, recovery," Egolf said in a statement. "The fact that this bill is the first from the House to hit the governor's desk is evidence of that commitment, and we look forward to getting these relief payments to New Mexico's small businesses in short order." Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said, in a statement, the new grant program will provide assistance to thousands of New Mexico businesses. "Building this new capacity to create jobs is a cornerstone of the state's recovery plan," Keyes said. The applications and payments to businesses through the program will be managed by the New Mexico Finance Authority at nmfinance.com, with a formal announcement made when the application portal opens.
And Senate Bill 10, which repeals an antiquated state ban on abortions, passed the House and also headed to the governor's desk on Friday. "New Mexicans understand that they can hold their own personal views about abortion, and still trust others to make their own reproductive health care decisions," co-sponsor Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement. "Regardless of what happens at the US Supreme Court, SB10 ensures that New Mexico will continue to protect women and their health care providers for safe and legal abortions." The governor has said she will sign the bill.
In the third episode of the third season of the Key Change podcast, Santa Fe Opera Community Engagement Director Andrea Fellows Fineberg and colleagues from the Opera for All Voices initiative—a consortium of North American opera companies engaged in co-commissioning and co-producing new operatic works for audiences of all ages—go behind the scenes of Hometown to the World. The opera, with music by Laura Kaminsky and libretto by Kimberly Reed, involves issues of immigration, racism and religion, and has had an epic story of its own since its inception in 2016.
New owner for Outside
The Boulder, Colorado-based company Pocket Outdoor Media announced today it has acquired Outside Integrated Media—owner of the Santa Fe-based Outside Magazine. According to a news release, Pocket Outdoor Media also is changing its name to Outside, effective immediately, and has additionally acquired Peloton Magazine, athleteReg and Gaia GPS. "This is a transformational day for our company and our customers," Robin Thurston, POM CEO said in a statement. "Everything we do is driven by a belief that a hike, run, ride or yoga practice can change your life, and these new brands will help us fulfill our mission to build the world's best consumer experience across a wide range of activities." The acquisitions follow the company closing its series B financing, led by Sequoia Capital. Moreover, Sequoia partner Michael Moritz will be joining the Outside board of directors: "We're investing in Outside because the management team has warmly embraced the future of information and entertainment on the Internet," Moritz says in a statement. "Just like Netflix and Amazon Prime—Outside will create and distribute distinctive content to a worldwide audience on any internet device. Better still, Outside will turbo charge the online programming of many of the most loved fitness and health brands. As a longtime journalist, and former ink-stained wretch, I'm now being granted the opportunity to start a new chapter—as a digital stained wretch."
Are you being served?
When the health department cleared Santa Fe County for indoor dining (at 25%) Feb. 10, The Compound restaurant owner/executive chef Mark Kiffin was ready. Kiffin tells SFR he's spent the last few months strengthening his financial position, performing maintenance and securing his COVID-safe certification from the state. He also hired a professional sanitation crew to deep clean the restaurant each week and, for good measure, learned how to better balance his work with his life. Now, he's reopened, serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. He's also looking for a new chef de cuisine, to try to maintain some of that life/work balance. "Every chef I know has said [the pandemic] gave them time they didn't have before with their families," Kiffin says. "They want their work back—I want my work back. I love my life's work. It's not about me transitioning out, it's about getting the help we need." For now, he's anticipating a return to restaurant life. "Now that we're coming back, we're looking forward to seeing our guests again," he says. "We're laughing in the kitchen again. We're smiling behind our masks."
Today's weather forecast calls for a sunny day with a high near 45 degrees and northwest wind 15 to 20 mph. For now, the entire week looks sunny with temps in the high 40s to low 50s, with the exception of Thursday when we may see snow again. So, basically spring weather, even though that particular season is still a month away.