COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 259 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 186,156. The health department has designated 151,708 of those cases as recovered.

Bernalillo County had 80 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 38 and Sandoval County with 24. Santa Fe County had 10 new cases. There also were 10 new cases reported among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility, which had 37 new cases yesterday and an outbreak of close to 200 cases last week; there have now been 726 COVID-19 cases at that facility.

The state also announced 16 additional deaths, skewing in the "worst" case scenario from Los Alamos National Laboratory's weekly modeling and forecasting report; there have now been 3,769 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 177 people were hospitalized with COVID-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.

SFPS, union agree on terms for teachers’ classroom return

Santa Fe Public Schools and the National Education Association Santa Fe announced yesterday they have reached an agreement under which teachers and staff will return to campus once they have been offered their COVID-19 vaccines. Under New Mexico's vaccination plan, teachers fall into the next subcategory slated for vaccines in Phase1B, with some currently eligible if they have qualifying underlying conditions or 75 years or older; however, a recent federal directive from President Joe Biden to expedite educators' vaccines could hasten that process, depending on supply. Under the SFPS agreement, employees will not be required to receive vaccinations, but once Phase 1B ends, all employees and staff will be required to return to in-person work, unless they have an accommodation to work from home. "Our schools have been ready to reopen since the beginning of the school year," Superintendent Dr. Veronica C. García said in a statement. "Our hurdle to bringing students back has been access to vaccinations. I'm greatly encouraged with the federal prioritization of educational employees, and I continue to urge the state of New Mexico to follow suit. We all want to get our students back on campus as soon as possible." NEA Santa Fe President Grace Mayer said in an accompanying statement that 99% of local educators "have indicated their willingness to get vaccinated and we are excited at being prioritized. We look forward to receiving it and getting back in the classroom with our students."

JB White trial will remain in Santa Fe

The murder trial for Estevan Montoya, the teenager accused of killing local basketball player Fedonta "J.B." White, will stay in Santa Fe, following a ruling yesterday by state District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington, who denied a motion from the alleged shooter's defense counsel, Dan Marlowe, to move the trial to Los Alamos. Marlowe had argued that White's popularity would make it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial here. Montoya, who was 16 when he allegedly shot White at a party last summer, faces charges of first-degree murder; tampering with evidence; unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under 19 years old; and negligent use of a deadly weapon. Ellington agreed with the District Attorney's office that Marlowe supplied insufficient evidence to justify moving the trial. He also denied a motion to release Montoya before trial, but allowed Marlowe to file a separate motion on that matter. A ruling regarding exclusion of witnesses remains pending.

House rules

If a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada to visit Meow Wolf's newest Omega Mart installation isn't in your immediate future, take heart: Santa Fe's House of Eternal Return will be reopening soon—on March 19, to be exact, and tickets are now on sale for an experience revamped with plenty of COVID-safety measures, including: capacity limits, mask requirements and temperature checks. Hours of operation will be limited, as well, to four days per week, and the company says it has revised the House's "traffic flow and curtailed its interaction with immersive displays, so that the interactive experience more aligns with museum protocol," according to a news release. Meow Wolf artist Benji Geary provides a "multi-dimensional safety message" of what visitors will find upon their visits—in addition to the safety measures, the House has new paint, new app experiences with digital access to the House's narrative elements and new installations from guest artists Corinne Loperfido, Paolo Puck and Obsidiopolis. Meow Wolf also has the state's seal of approval, so to speak. "The state has reviewed Meow Wolf's health protocols and is satisfied with the important efforts they have made to safeguard the health and welfare of visitors," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "I'm personally very excited to have places like Meow Wolf back open."

Listen up

You don't need to be an angler to find the history of fishing and fisheries in our dry state interesting. Turns out New Mexico's fish hatchery program started in 1921 and has a long and complex backstory that intersects with the state's political history. The state Department of Game and Fish's Wildlife Magazine casts deep in the latest episode of its podcast with Assistant Chief of Fisheries over Hatcheries Roddy Gallegos, who grew up on New Mexico's hatcheries and has spent over 39 years working at hatcheries for the department.

Hey, seeds!

The third season of the Santa Fe Seed Library kicks off Saturday, allowing locals to gather free seed packets (mind the five-packet limit) through this collaborative program from the Santa Fe Public Library, Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners and Home Grown New Mexico (read about how the seeds were sown for this program in a 2019 SFR story). When the pandemic began, the program shifted from the Santa Fe Public Library's Southside branch to 11 self-serve "Mini Seed Libraries" throughout the county. Those locations include all three branches of the library, which will be hosting a free (library card required), online screening of the award-winning film, Seed: The Untold Story. And, yes, if you're gathering seeds that means spring is en route with all its myriad fecundity. Our cousin newsletter The Fork believes spring has already sprung (March 20 by the calendar) and offered some tips on what to eat at home and what's new in the reopening Santa Fe restaurant world in yesterday's dispatch.

New Mexico’s Afro-Frontier

The latest edition of New Mexico's El Palacio magazine shares research by historian and artist Timothy E. Nelson on what he calls the state's Afro-Frontier: Blackdom, New Mexico, an all-Black settlement in the state's southeastern corner, which was founded in 1903 and occupied until the 1920s. Editor Charlotte Jusinski (also part-time SFR copy editor) notes in her introduction to Nelson's work that 2020's heightened focus on racial disparity in the US brought new interest in Blackdom's history. The area's most common narrative, she writes, "is that its original homesteaders established their own town in order to escape the oppression of American white supremacy, but found farming in the arid and acrid Permian Basin challenging, and soon abandoned their efforts." Nelson's scholarship suggests otherwise and, instead, explores an "intersection of African descendants in diaspora, who quarantined themselves to achieve the goals of their ancestral strivings," Nelson writes.

You’re getting warmer

Today will be sunny with a high near 57 degrees and north wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southeast in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be identical except the wind will start out as southeasterly and then become south. Sunday high temp: 62 degrees!

Thanks for reading! The Word happily read about the first great ape to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (and, no, Karen the orangutan did not jump the line: She and three other orangutans along with five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo received an experimental vaccine made just for non-human animals).