COVID-19 by the numbers
The state also announced 31 more deaths: 15 on Saturday and 16 on Sunday. These included two deaths from Santa Fe County: a man in his 70s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions, and a man in his 60s who was hospitalized.
As of yesterday, 192 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
On Friday, the New Mexico Corrections Department reported 191 new COVID-19 cases at the Lea County Correctional Facility, a surge contributing to that day's higher case counts. Corrections Public Information Officer Eric Harrison tells SFR the facility noticed an uptick in inmate cases on Feb. 11, when surveillance testing turned up 27 positive cases. At that point, the department began regular weekly surveillance of 100% of both staff and inmates—an increase from prior surveillance of 50% and 5%, he said. "It's a very concerning number," Harrison said of the spike in cases, adding that Corrections is working with the health department on contact tracing.
The Santa Fe City Council unanimously approved a resolution designating today, March 1, as COVID-19 Memorial Day, "in remembrance of those who have lost their lives and in honor of those who continue to suffer from the impact of the virus." The resolution specifically acknowledges essential workers, and makes note that the pandemic has had a "disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color, exacerbating inequities already prevalent in our systems that we must address as a nation." In New Mexico, 3,716 people have died in the pandemic so far, 139 in Santa Fe County.
NM orders Johnson & Johnson vaccine
On Saturday, the US Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use authorization for a third COVID-19 vaccine—and the first single-dose option—from Johnson & Johnson, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices signed off on it yesterday. New Mexico Health Department Communications Director Matt Bieber told SFR, via email, that the state began ordering the new vaccine yesterday, and was able to order approximately 17,200 doses that will arrive on Tuesday and "then be distributed to providers across the state." The state also is slated to receive 77,720 of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines this week. The health department on Friday sent providers a letter clarifying that even providers not registered with the health department's vaccine distribution website must only vaccinate people eligible in the current phase. The only exception, the letter says, is when vaccines are in danger of expiration, at which point providers can move to the next subgroup in Phase1B: essential workers. The letter also states that should providers run out of eligible people within the current phase, the health department "may pause your allocations to ensure equitable distribution to eligible populations around the state."
Gov signs bills as clock ticks for Legislature
On Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 10 into law, thus repealing a 1969 state statute that criminalized abortion. "A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization. New Mexico is not in that business—not any more." The US Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision rendered the bill obsolete but, nonetheless, its repeal ensures "we keep abortion accessible, safe and legal in New Mexico," the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said. The governor also signed House Bill 11, which will provide $200 million in grants to help state businesses hire and rehire employees.
The Legislature will end at noon on March 20, with some high profile bills still in the mix. On Saturday, the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee discussed four separate bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, ultimately telling bill sponsors to find a compromise and return with one bill next weekend, at which point two weeks will remain to shepherd it through the Senate. "Hopefully, you can come up with some compromise," said Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., a Jemez Pueblo Democrat and committee chairman. The Senate will also take up HB 20 now—which the House passed yesterday— legislation that would guarantee earned sick leave for New Mexico workers.
Egolf responds to ethics complaint
New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, filed a motion on Friday asking the state Ethics Commission to dismiss a complaint filed last month by Former 11th Judicial District Court Judge Sandra Price, which alleged that Egolf stands to benefit from the proposed Civil Rights Act, currently wending its way through the Legislature (it passed the Senate House Health and Public Affairs Committee on Friday). Egolf's motion characterizes Price's complaint as "frivolous," lacking a good faith basis and failing "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In a separate response to Price's complaint, Egolf acknowledges that he is a lawyer and one of the bill's four co-sponsors, but denies any ethical violations or violations of the Governmental Conduct Act, and also counters that Price's allegations "lack any factual support." The Albuquerque Journal reports Egolf's firm has settled 10 legal actions against state agencies over the past five years for more than $2.3 million; Price, by phone, told the paper that Egolf's response to her complaint was "disingenuous and disrespectful of the public trust in elected officials."
New Mexico remains one of the last US states that allows triple-digit interest rates on short-term, small-dollar installment loans—so-called predatory lending—an issue some lawmakers are trying to address this session with Senate Bill 66, which would cap rates and fees from storefront lenders at 36% (the rate currently caps at 175%). In Episode 10 of SFR's Reported podcast's fourth season, host Katherine Lewin talks with a 34-year-old woman whose story epitomizes how such lending exposes vulnerable people to spiraling debt.
The Museum of International Folk Art recently announced a $40,000 National Endowment for the Arts award, which will help produce its 2022 exhibit, To Keep Them Warm: The Alaska Native Parka. "One of the ways we're thinking about this project is that our audience is not just within a brick and mortar anymore—part of the audience is the Alaska Native community itself," Laura Addison, the museum's curator of North American & European folk art, tells SFR. The exhibit is the brainchild of Suzi Jones, former deputy director at the Anchorage Museum in Dghayitna' (Anchorage), Alaska, who retired to Santa Fe in 2015 and is co-curator of the exhibit with Alaska Native Melissa Shaginoff (Athabascan/Paiute), who attended the Institute of American Indian Arts. "The parka is arguably the most important survival tool for any person living in the Arctic," Shaginoff said in a statement. "This project will be valuable not only for the beauty and reverence of the parkas themselves, but for our focus on the makers as Alaska Native culture bearers."
The New York Times takes a look at a new study from University of New Mexico and University of Nebraska-Lincoln paleo-ecologists, recently published in the journal Science, which examines the influence of juvenile dinosaurs on community structure and diversity. The study, led by UNM Biology graduate student Kat Schroeder, tests the hypothesis that juvenile T. rexes, as well as other large carnivores' youth, may have had an outsized influence on their eco-communities. "Dinosaur communities were like shopping malls on a Saturday afternoon—jam-packed with teenagers" Schroeder says in a UNM news release. "They made up a significant portion of the individuals in a species, and would have had a very real impact on the resources available in communities."
In like a lamb
When the sun rises today it will, apparently, be here to stay, with a high of 47 degrees and north wind around 10 mph becoming southwest in the morning. Temps look to rise to the mid 50s starting tomorrow and remain there for the rest of the week, with some potential precipitation in the offing mid-week.